Summer Storm by Kristina Dunker

AmazonCrossing Cove
Summer Storm
Translated from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Edition I read: AmazonCrossing, 2011 (ISBN:9781611090307)
Oringinally published by Deutscher Taschen buch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 2004

This book came to me through The German Book Office (GBO) New York, Inc. Check out their Facebook page where they have a monthly book give-a-way.

This Summer Storm is a young adult novel, not to be confused with the German movie entitled Summer Storm, which was also released in 2004. The movie is about a teenage boy’s coming out experience during a rowing competition where the teams are away from home and camped at a lake. I saw it a couple years ago and highly recommend it.

The unrelated movie

Summer Storm, the book, is about a teenage girl, Annie, and what happens the night her cousin, Gina, disappears.

Annie is sixteen and lives in an industrial area near Münster, Germany. Gina and her father have been living in Berlin and are planning to move in with Annie’s family. Gina’s father works as a journalist and is often out of the country. Gina’s mother died when she was young (4, I think) and she’s spent a lot of time alone and at boarding schools.  Annie’s mother and Gina’s father are siblings and apparently Annie’s mother has offered her home to her brother for years. Father and daughter aren’t getting along very well, and so the brother finally accepts his sister’s offer.

Gina and her father arrive at Annie’s home on a very hot Friday afternoon. When Annie gets home from school, which has been let out early due to the extreme heatwave the area has been experiencing, Gina sets off with Annie and her three friends for the local watering hole. Silver Lake is actually an old quarry where swimming is technically not allowed. The adults seem to have some hesitation about Gina going to the lake, but teenage persistence wins out.

Annie’s best-friends are Steffi, Jonas, and Roger. They liken themselves to a four leaf clover and have been friends since they were toddlers. Gina doesn’t seem to fit-in all that well. She’s an attractive girl, but on the quiet side. They arrive at the lake and if you’re imagining a picturesque mountain lake in Bavaria with cows grazing on the hillside, forget about it. Silver Lake is treeless, strewn with garbage, and filled with Peeping Toms who hang out with girlie magazines and binoculars, lusting after the young.

There’s a thunderstorm brewing that adds an even larger environmental threat, and the tension between the teens gets heavier as they talk about the dangers of Silver Lake and how a woman once drowned there. Gina asks questions about the drowning and does not go swimming. Eventually the group relaxes into the afternoon. The boys go their separate ways to collect firewood, Steffi reads her book, and Annie lies in the sun listening to a CD. Gina says she needs to go off into the bushes and no one notices that she doesn’t return until about 45 minutes later when the storm that’s been building in the background arrives earlier than anticipated. The group can’t find Gina. Parents are called, then the police. As the afternoon turns into evening, the strings of friendship binding the four leaf clover are strained to the point of breaking. Teenagers and parents look suspiciously at one another and eventually the majority turn their collective finger to point at one of their own.

Secrets between the friends and within Annie’s family leak out under the pressure of Gina’s disappearance and everyone is left changed by the crisis. Some, it is implied, are changed for the better. Annie obviously gains self-esteem and a greater sense of self throughout the ordeal.

To avoid a spoiler, let me just say that Dunker uses a prologue to set up the reader in an interesting way. When I got to the epilogue I found myself flipping back to the prologue to check out some things. In one you have a girl using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with her pain and in the other you see a girl considering healthier coping mechanisms to deal with her feelings. In between is the story of teens making their way through the often painful transition from childhood to adulthood. The major issues explored include sex, abusive behavior, trust, loyalty, communication, and the pitfalls of making assumptions.

Overall, I enjoyed Summer Storm and if I owned a bookstore I’d stock it. I sometimes have a hard time getting into young adult novels because they can be so ‘anxsty,’ particularly around issues of sexuality and gender roles. But that’s the nature of being a teen. It took me about 20 pages to relax into this book, but after that I was sucked in. If there’s a teen in your life who wants a “realistic” novel, this one might appeal to her or him. At only 139 pages long, there’s not a lot of character development, but the shortness might be appealing to a teen who wants to read something, but doesn’t want to commit to a huge tome. There’s also no gratuitous sex or violence, although one girl does tell her friend about kind of almost doing it one time with a boy she loves.

The translation seemed pretty smooth. There was one odd moment when hair gel is referred to as “setting lotion,” and I don’t think most American teens use the word disco anymore, but other than that the writing moved along without any awkwardness.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kristina Dunker, her website in only available in German at this time, but Amazon has an interview with her in English that you can read here.

This is the second AmazonCrossing novel that I’ve read this summer and I have to say I appreciate them making recent German books available in English.

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