Cool for the Summer

Have you ever wondered why there hasn’t been a queer version of “Grease”? Is it because you thought Grease was the queer version of “Grease”? I might have agreed, except then, I read Dahlia Adler’s “Cool For the Summer” and realized that not only did Grease need a good queering, but also a musical update. Thank goodness for Demi Lovato and Dahlia Adler. This is the summer book you won’t want to wait until summer for.

When Larissa gets back from her summer vacation, she finds out that the guy she’s been crushing on since forever (six years – but that’s forever in teenage years, isn’t it?) is into her. She couldn’t be more thrilled—for about 30 seconds—because then Jasmine, the girl she had a fling with over the summer, walks into school and suddenly Larissa doesn’t know what, or who, she wants. Does she tell her friends about what happened over the summer, or try to hide it from them until she figures out what it even meant?

This is YA with all the requisites, and some great additives. Teen angst. Check. Self-doubt and constant self-evaluation. Check. A job at a bookstore/café. Check. Even a homecoming dance, with a dashing man as an escort, and a beautiful girl appearing in a killer dress. Check, and check. While all of those elements make this feel familiar and cozy, there are other elements which disrupt that formula, making this a much stronger book. One of the best ways Adler does this is by elevating what is often relegated to subtext to text itself. The characters in this book are often vocal about their needs, their wants, their consent and their decisions. While they live and stew in uncertainty, they speak their truth out loud, and serve as models for self-advocacy. Larissa learns that being loved by someone has made her a more confident and secure person. In another book, this may have been left for the reader to realize, but Larissa gets to have that empowering moment of clarity for herself.

What’s great about Larissa is that even though she’s navigating her senior year of high school through potentially choppy waters, unsure of her feelings and what they might mean about her sexuality, her angst doesn’t feel overdone. There is as much joy as anything else, which isn’t always the way narratives skew young adult emotions. Her internal struggle over her feelings for both Chase, the most popular guy in school and the handsome quarterback to boot, and for Jasmine, a graphic-novel-reading Syrian Jew, come across as authentic. Even in moments when Larissa fears that her worries are trivial, she explains herself well to readers and her friends alike. She isn’t always eloquent, but she always makes herself clear.

Another strength of this story is its casual diversity, and the ways that varied identities can play both large and small roles in the course of a friendship. There are characters who are Jewish, Syrian, Russian, Japanese, Black, non-binary, bisexual, gay, and aroace. Some of those play a large part in the character development and others not-so-much in a way that feels genuine and realistic. Some elements are mentioned in passing, while others lead to exploring the tradition and culture in meaningful ways. As in life, not every part of an identity carries equal weight, so, too, in Adler’s book.

This is a fun read, with compelling characters and true-to-life moments of awkwardness and triumph alike. Yes, there are going to be lots of Demi Lovato song references, graphic novel recommendations, and language like “Lordy, she is a Type” and “panty-droppingly good” (though, now that I think of it, maybe Adler wants you to think of her book that way?), but, hey, they work, and they’ll give you all the feels (as the teens say… right?). Have your Lovato playlist ready for when you start reading, because you’re going to want to sing along.

About this book

  • ISBN:9781250765826
  • Price:$18.99
  • Page Count:272