One of the most fun things about “The Best Worst Summer,” by Elizabeth Eulberg, is that it’s really two stories in one, tied together by a time capsule.
One story is set in contemporary times and the other is set in 1989.
Both stories are about those all-consuming and all-important tween friendships.
In one story, the summer starts out awful and gets good.
In the other, the summer starts out amazing and ends up tragic.
Another fun thing is that someone buries a time capsule (not an official one that has paperwork to remind someone to dig it back up), and the main character finds it! How cool is that?!
It’s easy to take the discovery for granted since it’s basically the catalyst for the whole book, but if that happened in real life, it would be pretty incredible.
If that makes me a geek, well, so be it!
The contemporary story opens with a grumpy main character, Peyton, who has moved four hours from Minneapolis to the small town of Lake Springs because her mom got a great job at a local college.
Not only is Peyton forced to leave her friends and neighborhood, she doesn’t get to go to soccer camp with her best friend, Lily, and all her other soccer buddies.
She’s mad. She’s bored. She’s lonely and a little scared.
Because she’s bored, her dad gives her a chore; dig up the weeds in their new back garden.
This is when Peyton uncovers a homemade time capsule.
In the time capsule are, among other things, one half of a “best friends” necklace, a photo of a girl making a sad face and a note saying “I’m sorry.”
Since Peyton hasn’t got anything better to do, she decides to figure out the story behind the objects.
Adult readers will laugh as she wonders what a cassette tape is, and also a Kodak Disc camera, which I’m not totally clear on.
Peyton’s questions lead her to the local library, where she meets a boy named Lucas.
He helps her figure out some of her mysteries, including how to get the Disc camera photos developed.
Lucas adds a nice amount 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 seems.”
He knows everyone in the small town and so can help Peyton solve the mystery of who buried the box.
It’s clear that that 1989 friendship ended that summer, and Peyton wants to know why so it doesn’t happen with her and Lily.
Solving the mysteries of the time capsule provide a perfect structure for Peyton, with Lucas’ help, to learn her way around the town, meet people and enjoy the local attractions, like the world’s best ice cream shop and nearby parks.
Lucas has his own story line, which involves trying to get his mom to stop being so over-protective after a car accident puts him in a wheelchair.
The author does a good job illustrating the daily challenges Lucas faces, like not being able to go to the sushi restaurant because there are six steps to the entrance, and how hard it is for him to maneuver in stores without knocking over displays.
It’s especially effective because it’s organic to the story, not the central issue of the novel.
We watch as Peyton struggles to stay in touch with Lily back in Minneapolis and also adjust to her new surroundings.
Although her mom kept saying this was a great opportunity, Peyton resents the fact that her parents both work so hard they are never around.
Peyton wishes her parents were half as involved as Lucas’ mom is.
The reader also sees Melissa, of the time capsule story, wrestle with family issues and secrets.
While her friend, Jessica, who had been adopted from Korea, struggles some with her identity.
The 1989 story is a fun, deep dive into pop culture, language and clothing of the time, but it also addresses domestic violence, which is, of course, a scarier side of that story.
This is basically a mystery that the reader is in on. That’s my favorite kind!
Still, there are several twists that are quite satisfying.
It could be confusing to go back and forth between the two main stories, but the author does a great job of making both the characters and the settings distinctive enough that it is not hard.
In addition, the designer has done a good job of visually distinguishing the two main story lines without it being distracting.
This is a good middle-grade read for any young reader who likes some mystery to their friendship story.
Don’t be put off by the title, which I find didn’t reflect all that I liked about the story.