In Memories of Summer (Ages 10 and up), Newbery Honor recipient Ruth White paints a thoughtful but disturbing portrait of the lives and times of 13-year-old Lyric Compton and her 16-year-old sister, Summer. White's palette begins with soft muted tones, as she describes the girls' harmonious relationship and loving upbringing in rural Glory Bottom, Virginia. But shades of gray and crimson gradually bleed into the mix.
Though her Mama died in 1942, when narrator Lyric was only three, father Poppy kept her spirit alive through memories of whispers and songs. Mama believed a person's name had definitive purpose, he told his daughters. So Summer was named for her sparkling warmth and Lyric was named for her full, rich voice. With hopes for a brighter tomorrow, Poppy moves Lyric and Summer from their coal-mining birthplace in southwest Virginia to the big city bustle of Flint, Michigan, in 1945. But hope almost immediately begins to fade. With Poppy at work in the Chevrolet factory late into the evening, Lyric is left to care for her older sister. And what were charming eccentricities in Virginia soon become full-blown insanity in Flint.
Step by step, we witness not only Summer's crumbling mental health, but younger sister Lyric's growing personal strength. We come to understand how frightening paranoia and schizophrenia must have been during the 1950s, before long-term therapy and medication replaced institutionalization and electric shock. Like all of White's work, Memories of Summer is understated and warm, even through the coldest of plot points. Her observations are unflinching in their honesty, and yet compassionate and kind. Thanks to White's tenderness, craftsmanship, and historical detail, Memories of Summer is a gripping novel and a testament to unconditional familial love.
Kelly Milner Halls is the author of I Bought a Baby Chicken (Boyds Mills Press).