The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
We’ve probably all familiar with the premise teen goes to camp and falls in love. But The Summer I Wasn’t Me offers a very different twist as the camp in question is a religious “de-gayifying” retreat.
After Lexi’s father passes away, her mother slips into a deep depression. When her mother discovers Lexi’s feelings for a girl in town, it seems like this news will shatter their tenuous grip on each other. Desperate to hold what’s left of her family together, Lexi is willing to accept her mother’s plan to cure her of her gayness. Raised in a church going community, the religious camp serves to reinforce many of the messages she’s been given her whole life. What Lexi doesn’t count on is that one of the other campers will be the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen, a girl who undoubtedly also likes girls.
The summer yields friendships, so much romantic longing and no actual curing of homosexual feelings, but it also uncovers some very dark secrets.
Since I’m reviewing this as a potential Valentine-y love-y read, I can say that it certainly delivers on the longing and the mounting tension. There are so many delicious moments where you wait, wondering if now is when things will start to happen. And of course, as is a requirement for a true romance, there is a happily ever after.
However, those dark secrets? Well, they do bring the book down a bit. They serve to fully discredit the idea of a camp being able to change someone’s sexual preferences, but it is done through a very dramatic and violent turn of events. I’ll use a spoiler, but I would strongly encourage everyone to read the spoiler.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Counselors watch kids unpack to make sure they don’t have any “homosexual pornography” with them. People date people of the same gender. A teen reports having been seen in an “inventive position” with a partner. There’s discussion of same sex marriage (in the book it is not legal nationally as it is currently). Lube is mentioned but not in conjunction with any sexual act. Leviticus is quoted in Chapter 15, including “you must not have sexual intercourse with a man as one has sexual intercourse with a woman”. Two girls kiss during a game of spin the bottle. Tongues are involved. The kiss is in front of an audience and one of the participants meant it only for the benefit of the audience. Campers are advised to avoid satanic influences by not masturbating. Two teen girls shared the same bed. A teen had a year long relationship with a same sex partner. Two teens kiss. Teens touch under their shirts.
Profanity – Lexi reports that “gay” and “fag” are used as slurs at her school. “crap”, “hell”, “screw you”, “fucking”, “God”, “Jesus Christ”, “Asshole”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Lexi’s father has passed away prior to the start of the book. We learn later it was from pancreatic cancer. An 11 year old is hit across the face by someone he has kissed. A teen is routinely beaten by a parent. Leviticus (a Bible book) states that men engaging in sexual intercourse with other men should be put to death. A teen was sexually abused by a cousin. An adult in a position of power threatens a teen. He demands sexual favors. The teen is able to use violence to escape but is forced to kiss the adult first. There is every reason to believe that this is a pattern of predatory behavior. A teen is violently beaten under the guise of it being an “exorcism”. The teen is refused medical care after this incident.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Teens drank beer (does not occur on page, just a reference to past behavior). A teen’s father is a heavy drinker. Drugs are mentioned. Teens drink vodka and get drunk. A teen mentions drinking beer and mulled wine in the past.
Frightening or Intense Things – Lexi’s mother suffers from depression. A teen is faced with being kicked out of his home due to his sexual orientation.