Summary: The First Magnificent Summer
It’s the 90s, and Tori (Victoria) Reeves is planning the first magnificent summer with her father since he left their family over two years ago. He now has a new partner and two kids but is taking Victoria and her two siblings with his new family camping in Ohio. As the trip progresses, Victoria and her siblings realize that their father hasn’t changed much from the emotionally abusive parent he was. But will he stop Victoria from writing her own story?
This was a brilliantly written story told in form of diary entries and poetry. It’s hard to read at times (deeply annoying and heartbreaking the way Tori’s father acts toward her and her siblings — and even with his new wife). It’s a pivotal summer for Victoria because she also gets her first period on this trip and has to manage the few “Womanhood Supplies” her mom sends her on the trip with while trying to keep her new visitor secret from her father.
I loved how vivid the setting of this story is. It’s impossible to forget how Victoria feels sleeping in a tent with her siblings in a camp, while her dad and his new family sleep in the RV. Or Victoria’s hesitance to swim in a not-so-clean lake while on her period despite her father’s insistence. Readers will feel the kids’ longing to be with their loving mother and grandmom as soon as the summer is over.
Victoria likes to write in her diary, which her father doesn’t like. He’d rather she do exactly what he wants at all times, not have a mind of her own. There’s a heavily triggering scene in which he acts angrily against her writing practice. In the end, Victoria learns that life can be intensely difficult but that hard situations pass and that we are in charge of telling our stories.
Overall: The First Magnificent Summer
The First Magnificent Summer is a vivid, heartwrenching, and emotionally resonant book about dealing with difficult parents and navigating a first period. Some readers will find this one tough to stomach, but I found it irresistible, full of heart, and compulsively readable in spite of the difficult theme explored. This story explores the idea that some parents are unkind, and sometimes kids don’t have much agency over who they spend time with, but they can triumph over challenging situations and live to tell the story with support from others who love them. This atmospheric summer story is so relatable, especially for kids who love to journal or those going through puberty.