Monday, July 18, 2016

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 24, 2016

Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home. Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

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Pam Jenoff has been one of my go-to writers for a while. I always enjoy the time I spend with her stories and I think that is why I put off reading The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach for as long as I did. I’d flagged it as a comfort read and kept it in my back pocket to distract me when I found myself in rough patch.

The story surprised me in many ways. I found it slower than Jenoff's other novels, but it is a story of self-discovery so the pacing was actually quite appropriate to the action. Adelia Monteforte is a young girl when Jenoff introduces her and it takes years for her to experience the events that shape the woman she becomes. It is a process that unfolds as she enters each new phase of her life and I liked how Jenoff structured the story to emphasize that idea. 

Another thing I like about this piece was how it highlighted America’s pre-war years. Europe was a world away and the United States didn’t really understand the magnitude or fear experienced by those on the other side of the Atlantic. I know the era through my own research, but I appreciated Jenoff’s effort at illustrating the naivety that existed in America and showing her audience how blissfully unaffected the average American was prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

The heart of the story, however, is the idea of family, the roles each individual plays in it, how those roles change over time, and how they play into the choices we make as adults. It’s a subtle idea with no flashy bells and whistles, but it’s elegant and moving nonetheless. It takes a while to get there of course, the narrative spans a handful of countries over a period of years, but there a sense that it comes full circle in the end and I liked how everything came into focus in the final chapters. 

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is a heartfelt coming of age novel of love and renewal. It’s not the heaviest historical I ever read, but I’d definitely recommend it to readers of period romance and/or women’s fiction. 

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“Running doesn’t make the pain stop. You take it with you.”
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Tea said...

I like novels in which characters travel from place to place: Italy, London and the other place. I would like to read this one.

Mystica said...

I like the author very much and this book is a new one for me. Thanks for the review.