This book has been all over the YA blogosphere since its 2009 release and it was also in the spotlight when it was challenged and eventually banned from the Republic, Missouri school district. I never picked it up because my TBR pile is mountainous, but when I was perusing the Kobo store the other day, it was on sale for $3.00, so I couldn't resist. I brought my Kobo with me to a lodge where I was staying one weekend for a family wedding because I didn't feel like packing 2-3 books and had time to read it all in two sittings.
I think one of the most striking things about this book is how misleading the title is in relation to the content between the covers. At first glance, this book looks like a light beach read, rife with scenes from the beach, big parties and boys, boys, boys (twenty of them, apparently). But this really isn't that kind of book at all; it's a book about grief, friendships, and secrets. Despite its heavy themes, this is more of a quiet book, and one that is most definitely character driven.
One of the reasons this book caused such a ruckus in Missouri was because of the sexual content. The main character, Anna, is put on a quest by her friend Frankie to lose her virginity while visiting her summer home in California for a month. It's also Frankie's mission during this time to woo twenty boys (which is where the title derives from, obviously). This is all a means for Frankie to deal with the death of her brother though; Ockler's text/Anna's narration never condones Frankie's behaviour, but it never judges it either. Anywho, I want to get back to how the sex was handled in this book, because Anna *does* lose her virginity. Anna speaks of her feelings towards sex very frankly, and she doesn't romanticize them. Her virginity *is* important to her, and she doesn't want to give it away to just anybody who comes along, but it's not something she treats like the end-all be-all of her existence either. When she does give it up, she doesn't ignore that it happened, but it's not earth-shattering either, which I think is good -- her and Frankie's story is the focus of this novel, and Ockler never loses that focus.
The way Ockler wrote her characters was also well-done. Frankie is a little frustrating at the beginning of the novel; she's a shallow and seemingly vapid girl who's way too interested in clothes and receiving male attention. However, it's also made clear from the get-go that Frankie wasn't like this before the death of her older brother Matt, so it's obvious that her new personality is a means to deal with her brother's death. I wish I could've had a better sense of what Frankie was like before Matt's untimely death, but really, there was no way to do this unless Anna were to describe it to us, or to have flashbacks, and I'm kind of glad Ockler didn't opt for either path.
Anna was definitely a likable character -- I felt for her when Matt died at the beginning of the novel. To be in love with someone for that long, and to finally have them, only to have them ripped away so shortly after really is very sad, and watching Anna deal with that grief privately even sadder. She never told Frankie about her and Matt's relationship for fear of upsetting Frankie, and a year later she *still* hasn't told her because she doesn't want to diminish Frankie's grief in any way, or entitle herself to be as upset as Frankie about it all. Her unwavering loyalty to Frankie is really admirable, despite the very obvious shift in Frankie's personality, and her dedication to helping Frankie in her time of need. I also really liked that she never stresses and moans over her crush on her Potential Boy (can't recall his name) -- I thought that she might have a lot of inner-torment over liking another boy, like she might be betraying Matt or something, but she doesn't. She tries to keep herself from being interested in Potential Boy, but not very hard, and when she realizes it can't be helped, she rolls with it without casting Matt completely aside. It was a perfect balance.
Frankie's parents also play a semi-important part in the story, in that the readers also get to see how they deal with grief over the death of their son. Unfortunately, this was one of the only threads that I found was kind of underdeveloped. They don't change too much over the course of the story, and the tension between Frankie and her parents is never really resolved, or given any kind of closure. It's a thread that was left dangling and I wish it could've been addressed further.
Final Verdict: Don't let the cover of this novel fool you; this is no easy-going beach reach. Rather, it's a character-driven story about two girls dealing with grief, and their road to recovery. The way Ockler deals with these two teen characters (from their reactions to the death that launches the novel, to the sex) was dealt with delicately, but still realistically. My only problem with the novel was I found the thread in the narrative dealing with Frankie and her relationship with her parents was left unresolved, which I thought was a shame. I would definitely recommend this to fans of contemporary YA, especially for people who are looking for a book with more heavy-duty themes without being "issue-books".