Like a Summer Lemonade: sweet, sour but still refreshing


This year, the Stocktons are taking a whole new approach to summer at the family cottage Annabel is changing her name to Annie, and her mom is putting away the daily spreadsheets to give Annie more independence. Annie has always wondered about the off-limits farm next door, so as soon as they arrive she is out the door to find adventure.

Enter California, sitting in an apple tree, hiding from her grandfather. California, who is visiting her grandfather for the summer, is on an adventure of her own. She tells Annie that he has cancer. Her mom's relationship with her grandfather is strained, and California is convinced that if she can find her mother's beloved horses, Piper will visit the farm and the family will be healed. But time is running out. And so, the summer and an amazing friendship begin.

NOTE: Review below contains spoiler.

Parent Perspective:
This is a really fun story. It is everything you remember about the smells, tastes, and freedom of summer. I can totally see my 12-year-old self in Annie's shoes, wanting a friend just like California, and wishing for adventure. Although the friendship develops very quickly, it feels completely authentic. The girls care for each other, see past personality quirks, and want to be better for the other. One of the other things I love is how the story represents different family types. The Stocktons are pretty typical, but Piper and California live on a commune. There is no dad.

Before sharing this with your child, you need to know that the ending is sad. Just like Annie I missed the clues that it is not Mr. McMurty but California who is dying of cancer. The author does an exceptional job lifting the story at the end, but readers are invested in this friendship, too, so it stings on multiple levels when California dies.

Highly recommend that parents read this! It is a semi-subtle reminder that sometimes we strangle our kids in the name of love and safety. As they learn to fly, they'll make mistakes, but they'll learn some amazing things, too.

Reader Enjoyment Factors:

This is a made-for-the-hammock story that will have readers thinking of dreams of summer's past, adventure, and friends. Annie and California are engaging, realistic characters, as are the adults in their lives.

Content Awareness Factors:

California, who is a catalyst in the story, has cancer and dies at the very end of the book. For most of the story, readers don't know that - they believe what California has told them: her grandfather is getting treatments.

Type of Book:
This is a beautiful about growing up, friendship, and family relationships (especially parents letting go).
Educational Themes:

There is a lot to talk about with regard to relationships, re-creating the past (can you really go back?), as well as choices and consequences. There is a lot of backstory to Piper and Mr. McMurty's relationship that can be explored. What do readers think Piper will do - stay or go back to Oregon?

This would also be a great story to read with your soon-to-be teenager to open discussions on independence, boundaries, over-scheduling, expectations, and responsibilities.

Reading Level:
Recommended Age To Read By Yourself:
11 and Up
Recommended Age To Read Together:
11 and Up
Purchase Recommendation:
Borrow, for sure. This is a lovely, well-written story. Great for a read-aloud or summer reading in the hammock.
book cover

Title Swing Sideways
Author Nancy Turner Steveson
Publisher Harper, Imprint HarperCollins Publishers © 2016
ISBN 9780062374547
Material Hard Cover
Cost $16.99
Genres Family, Friendship, Death and Loss

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