Deb Aronson | Mystery served with a nostalgic side | Books
One of the funniest things about Elizabeth Eulberg’s “The Best Worst Summer” is that it’s really two stories in one, tied together by a time capsule.
One story takes place in contemporary times and the other takes place in 1989.
Both stories are about these all-consuming and very important friendships.
In one story, summer starts off horribly and goes well.
In the other, the summer begins astonishing and ends tragically.
Another funny thing is that someone buries a time capsule (not an official time capsule that has papers to remind someone to dig it up), and the main character finds it! How cool is that ?!
It’s easy to take the discovery for granted as it’s essentially the catalyst for the whole book, but if it happened in real life, it would be pretty amazing.
If that makes me a geek, well so be it!
The contemporary story opens with a cranky main character, Peyton, who moved for four hours from Minneapolis to the small town of Lake Springs because his mother got a great job at a local college.
Not only is Peyton forced to leave her friends and her neighborhood, but she can’t go to soccer camp with her best friend, Lily, and all of her other soccer buddies.
She’s crazy. She is bored. She is alone and a little scared.
Because she is bored, her father gives her a chore; dig up the weeds in their new back garden.
That’s when Peyton discovers a homemade time capsule.
In the time capsule are, among other things, half of a “best friends” necklace, a photo of a girl making a sad face, and a note saying “I’m sorry”.
Since Peyton has nothing better to do, she decides to figure out the story behind the objects.
Adult readers will laugh wondering what a tape is, as well as a Kodak Disc camera, which I’m not entirely clear about.
Peyton’s questions lead her to the local library, where she meets a boy named Lucas.
He helps her figure out some of its mysteries, including how to get Disc camera photos developed.
Lucas adds a nice dose of humor and perspective to the story.
One of the first things he says to Peyton is, “Lake Springs… it’s not as boring as it sounds.”
He knows everyone in the small town, so he can help Peyton solve the mystery of who buried the box.
It’s clear that 1989 friendship ended that summer, and Peyton wants to know why that doesn’t happen with her and Lily.
Solving the mysteries of the time capsule provides the perfect structure for Peyton, with help from Lucas, to learn his way around the city, meet people, and enjoy local attractions, like the world’s best ice cream parlor and nearby parks.
Lucas has his own story, which involves trying to get his mother to stop being overprotective after a car accident puts him in a wheelchair.
The author does a good job of illustrating the daily challenges Lucas faces, such as not being able to go to the sushi restaurant because there are six steps at the entrance, and how difficult it is for him to maneuver in stores without overturn the displays.
It’s particularly effective because it’s organic to the story, not the central issue of the novel.
We watch Peyton struggle to stay in touch with Lily in Minneapolis and adjust to her new surroundings.
Although his mother kept saying it was a great opportunity, Peyton resents the fact that his parents both work so hard that they are never around.
Peyton wishes his parents were half as involved as Lucas’s mother.
The reader also sees Melissa, from The Time Capsule Story, struggling with family issues and secrets.
While her friend, Jessica, who was adopted from Korea, struggles with her identity.
The 1989 story is a fun and deep dive into the pop culture, language, and clothing of the era, but it also touches on domestic violence, which is, of course, a more frightening side to this story.
It is basically a mystery that the reader finds himself in. It’s my favorite genre!
Still, there are several twists and turns that are quite satisfying.
It can be confusing to go back and forth between the two main stories, but the author does a great job of making the characters and sets distinctive enough that it’s not difficult.
Additionally, the designer did a good job of visually distinguishing the two main story lines without it being distracting.
This is a good intermediate read for any young reader who likes a bit of mystery in their friendship story.
Don’t be put off by the title, which in my opinion didn’t reflect everything I liked about the story.