Bestselling YA author Ally Condie’s debut middle grade novel transports readers to a small desert town called Iron Creek, in the first summer following an automobile accident that changed 12-year-old Cedar’s life. Cedar’s father and younger brother Ben, a boy with special needs, were killed by a drunk driver, leaving Cedar, her mother and youngest brother Miles to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Buying a house in the town where she grew up is Cedar’s mother’s idea, and Cedar does her best to be supportive, though it’s hard to drum up much enthusiasm. It’s not until Cedar spies a boy named Leo speeding by on his bicycle that she begins to take an interest in making new connections. Through Leo, Cedar gets a job selling concessions at the Summerlost Festival, a Shakespearean festival held on the town’s college campus each year.
As Cedar forges a friendship with Leo, she realizes they both often feel different. She has been teased in the past on Ben’s account, and a group of local boys makes fun of her Chinese-American features and Leo’s theater costume. Cedar also gets drawn into the mystique surrounding the town’s most famous resident, a Hollywood actress who got her start on stage at Summerlost and later died in town. That’s not the only mystery plaguing Cedar: Someone is leaving odd gifts on her windowsill at night. Is it Leo, the strange birds in the tree or her brother’s ghost trying to make contact?
Summerlost is a sensitive look at the power of family and friendship in the grieving process, with humor and mystery that will draw in boy and girl readers alike.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is A Bandit's Tale.