Something Like Summer is a moving coming of age story that will definitely appeal to readers. Unfortunately I didn’t particularly like the main character in Ben but in many ways this is completely subjective. He happened to touch on a few personal pet peeves that are unlikely to bother other readers, although the issue of fidelity may be a problem for some. The writing though is very engaging, bringing you into Ben’s journey with an absorbing intimacy. Although this isn’t a fast paced read, it’s a story I didn’t want to end.
Jay Bell’s second novel is a contemporary tale of a boy looking for true love. Told in third person from Ben’s perspective the reader follows the intrepid hero as he finds his first true love in high school. Tim Wyman is a new arrival from exotic Kansas and Ben is in lust at first sight. After Ben tackles Tim in a daring rollerblade accident culminating in a broken bone and enforced intimacy, the two begin a friendship with romantic undertones. Although Tim comes a long way to accepting his relationship with Ben, Ben’s outgoing personality and refusal to hide his feelings end up being too much for the closeted jock. Over the next twelve years Tim comes in and out of Ben’s life leaving confusion, longing, pain, need, love, and an everlasting connection.
This is mostly a character driven story that is sometimes funny, sometimes heart breaking, sometimes infuriating. The main character of Ben is well developed and incredibly complicated. He’s full of flaws and issues, an interesting mix of boldness and cowardice. I experienced a wide range of emotions from loving Ben to really disliking him to not quite believing in him but still wanting a happy ending. Ben is anything but cookie cutter and he engages readers while also potentially turning them off. He often makes mistakes and rarely wants to take responsibility for his created problems. In fact from beginning to end, Ben doesn’t really change much from the slightly immature, act first think second bold teenager.
In some ways Ben is the example many teens likely wish they could be. Totally comfortable with his sexuality, out of the closet at a young age, Ben adapts to the challenges thrown his way. He refuses to let his love put him in a closet or change who he is. Ben shows astonishing maturity during his first breakup with Tim, a maturity markedly lacking upon later meetings. The reasons are many and varied as the story tries hard to show that love is complex, messy, and never easy. Ben’s love for Tim never, ever goes away and this is offset by a lengthy relationship Ben has with his partner Jace. The love triangle between Ben, Tim, and Jace – although sorry, no threesomes – is honest, genuine, and rather frustrating.
This is where I started to really dislike Ben in many ways. He’s human and ultimately flawed in many ways so it’s not very surprising when Ben makes all the wrong choices. Ben’s best friend Allison is often used as an outside voice of reason. Allison is incidentally a great character but used in very obvious manipulations. Allison only really exists later in the story to prompt Ben into actions and decisions. I really wish she hadn’t been used as such an obvious prop and instead given more subtly as she is quite enjoyable in scenes. Yet even with Allison’s influence Ben willingly and knowingly makes mistakes. Part of this should make him a likable and relatable character.
Unfortunately I found Ben to be frustratingly immature. He continues to make mistakes and refuses to accept responsibility, preferring to run from the situation. In some ways he shows shocking maturity and self awareness. Yet at the same time he makes the most obvious and juvenile mistakes. This mixture creates a very complicated character but one that is not always likable. Not only that I couldn’t quite understand why Jace is so understanding and loving about everything from lying to infidelity and even Ben’s obvious cowardice. Supposedly love is the reason but this feels too easy. However I acknowledge that’s my own personal pet peeve in stories and other readers may not have this same issue. While the infidelity is handled very well and with an honesty that is to be commended, Ben’s own refusal to own up to his actions is what killed him for me as a hero not so much his confusion and the actual actions themselves.
Although I don’t think this is a huge spoiler I’ll warn anyone to stop reading right now if you’re worried. One of the major plot points of the story is that Tim and Ben end up together. I don’t consider this a spoiler since the blurb explains the story is about the decade long relationship between Tim and Ben. So knowing this,I think the resolution between Ben and Jace is horribly manipulative. It’s an obvious way of getting Jace out of the picture so Ben and Tim can continue their relationship with a clear conscience. While romantic I suppose, I think Jace as a character deserved better. Again personal taste and other readers may feel differently.
Overall Something Like Summer is a beautifully written, engaging story that does an excellent job of depicting flawed men as they struggle through life. The honestly shown is very vivid from the confusion of love to trying to find a direction in life and working through the tough times in a relationship. This is an easy story to read although not an easy journey for any of the characters. It’s a novel that is likely to resonate with readers. Although I had a few qualms I think these are highly personal and other readers may not have the same issues. The clean writing and editing is a delight to read and the showing tone helps create an even pace to the story. You simply won’t want this story to end.