What Happened This Summer
Tradewind Books, 2006.
Paul Yee, recipient of numerous awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for his novel Ghost Train, focuses on the modern-day lives and concerns of Chinese-Canadians in this, his latest novel for young adults. So what did happen this summer? A general response would be that each teen-age protagonist came of age, grew up - and we, the reader, are privy to that process, because each experience is related in the first person and so we read what is going on in their heads as well as the unfolding events.
Yee keeps the reader on their toes: there is no warning that the narrator is going to change from chapter to chapter and since we are not introduced formally, we even have to work out whether the “I” is male or female. I was half-expecting the narrators to return in cycles – instead, we catch odd glimpses of them as they happen to pass through someone else’s story. Indeed, each story could stand alone as a short story, a vignette of the challenges and concerns faced by each character: parental expectations and pressure, school, homosexuality, racial stereotypes, sex, death – in other words the full gamut of the issues considered relevant by the majority of teenagers today. Yee’s focus on the Chinese-Canadian experience adds an extra facet to these subjects.
So, again, what happened this summer? While each person’s story could stand alone, Yee is actually setting up the strings of his narrative to be pulled together in the final chapter. This watershed time in all their lives reaches its peak at that point and it is as powerful as it is unexpected. However, life does go on and, as is so often the case, it will only be with hindsight that each narrator will come to realise the significance of that period in their lives: something beyond the book's telling that is up to readers to interpret for themselves.
A thought-provoking book that will appeal to young adults who are themselves on the brink of making life-affecting decisions about their own futures