HAPPY MONDAY! :D
*Hands each of you a cup of coffee/drink of your choice*
Today, I'm reviewing Leila Howland's The Brightest Stars of Summer. Much like how I know that each of Natalie Lloyd's books will bring me into a magical setting, I know that Leila's books will put me in the mood for a breezy, summer location.
MMGM is a feature hosted by the fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!!
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by HarperCollins
Format read: ARC via publisher
But when it becomes clear that Max has eyes for Marigold, Zinnie can’t contain her hurt, and it leads her to betray Marigold with an unthinkable sister crime. With a wedding on the horizon and tension simmering between them, will the Silver sisters be able to overcome their hurt in time to give Sunny what she’s already given them: a summer to remember?
Things that worked:
It’s been about a year since I last visited Zinna, Marigold and Lilly, and I absolutely loved getting reacquainted with their personalities and their world.
Howland has done a nice job of showing how the three sisters have grown since their last adventure, but also how many of the facets of their personality/interests – e.g. Marigold’s love of acting; Zinna’s pursuit of writing – remains the same.
But even within that development of their previous interests, Howland is careful to show the sisters struggling with their decisions and their life choices. There is a constant worry of whether they are good enough – which is something I think that many young readers will relate to.
While Zinna will always be my favorite, I had an even stronger appreciation for Marigold this time around. Due to circumstance, she grapples with wanting to overcompensate by showing off when ignored by her classmates, while also equally thinking that she’s just not good enough.
It’s a very teenaged struggle, and I loved the fact that Howland eventually has her come to the realization that she shouldn’t change herself, simply to make other people happy. It’s a lesson I hope that many other young readers will take to heart.
On writing and plotting:
Howland writes in third-person throughout the book, but makes it a point to primarily stick with Zinna and Marigold’s narratives.
It absolutely helps focus the book in their respective journeys, while also emphasizing to the reader and to the sisters, that they have similar struggles in their day-to-day lives.
Even if Marigold and Zinna may not realize it themselves, they actually have parallel journeys, and Howland shares that in her trademark, breezy style.
What’s great about The Brightest Stars of Summer is that very few of the friendships and romantic relationships are happening as planned.
In terms of friendship, all three sisters struggle with maintaining friendships, making new friends, and being accepted for who they are. Howland skillfully shows how kids and young tweens can be better friends in a multitude of situations, and readers will definitely appreciate the honesty of those efforts.
In terms of romantic relationships, neither Marigold or Zinna get what they want at first – Zinna’s crush likes Marigold; Marigold’s crush has a girlfriend.
However, rather than have the girls sulk and/or stop talking to their crushes, Howland sensibly shows them working through these moments with good humor, growing maturity and understanding.
With the help of the adults around them, the girls accept that life doesn’t always work out how they want when it comes to crushes, and to also value relationships for what they are.
It’s a pretty heady lesson for young readers, but an important one – especially as they get older.
Like the first book in the series, The Brightest Stars of Summer focus on sisterly relationships. Howland does a nice job of showing how the girls have grown in the last year, and are struggling with that age-old dilemma of how they can grow up (and apart!) in their interests, while still remaining true to their sisterly bond.
*Minor spoilers ahead*
I loved Marigold's decision to try and be more like her sister as she struggles with her loss of faith in acting, because even if she doesn't know it herself, there's just something so sisterly about her innate belief that her sister seems happier/more easy-go-lucky.
Conversely, I equally loved Zinna's decision to fictionalize her sister's issues and her eventual realization that doing so is breaking with her sister duties. It's both a nod toward the fact that young artists like Zinna learn from the world around them, but also learn how to prioritize relationships over self-promotion.
While Howland focused more on the family’s interpersonal relationships this time, Pruet is still as calming and soothing as ever.
Howland does take moments to appreciate the bucolic setting of the island, with nods to island tales and how the girls fit into the bigger picture – e.g. a certain lighthouse that is referenced several times in the book.
Without giving spoilers away, I will say: It’s a beautiful, fitting end for a beautiful story.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
However, it’s worth nothing for younger readers that Marigold, Zinna and even Lilly have some genuinely awful sisterly squabbles throughout the book.
While many of their squabbles had me cringing in secondhand embarrassment, Howland also gets kudos for making the squabbles as realistic as they read. It’s a testament to the ups-and-downs of sisterhood, and parents and educators will likely appreciate how the adults of the tale help the trio work through their issues.
Throw in a love story, and a reminder on the genuine joys (and lows!) of sisterhood, and this is a perfect tale to get into a summer mood. Highly recommend for all readers, full stop.
About the author:
Leila Howland was born and raised in Providence, RI, and graduated from Georgetown University. The Brightest Stars of Summer is the sequel to Leila’s middle grade debut, The Forget-Me-Not Summer. Leila is also the author of two YA novels: Nantucket Blue, for which she was named a Publishers Weekly "Flying Start," and Nantucket Red. Leila now lives in Los Angeles with her family. Visit her online at www.leilahowland.com.