How do we move on from the past? How do we define ourselves after tragedy? Pam Jenoff, author of the popular novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, explores these issues in her new book, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach.
In 1941, Adelia Monteforte, an Italian Jewish teenager, is suddenly put on a boat and sent to America for safety. Alone in a new country, living with an older aunt and uncle whom she never met and cannot relate to, Adelia yearns for companionship. That first summer at her aunt and uncle’s house at the Jersey shore is an answer to her prayers. Across the street are the Connally’s – an outgoing and friendly family with four boys who adopt “Addie” as their own. Addie is immediately drawn to the oldest son, Charlie, and hopes that he’ll one day see her as more than “like family.”
When tragedy tears the Connally family apart, Addie runs away to Washington, D.C. and throws herself into her work at a prestigious newspaper. But the past, never too far away, spurs Addie to move even further away – to London, England. There, she makes connections with influential people and begins to take a larger role in the war effort. But are her actions the result of her own grief?
As a Pam Jenoff fan, I was very excited for her newest novel (my favorite is still Almost Home). The book is divided into three parts and for the first two, I was absolutely enthralled. These sections took us through Addie’s time with the Connally’s, to her efforts to save orphaned children housed in London. I didn’t like the last part as much because – to me – it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the events in the story: it definitely moved at a slower pace. I also may or may not have been a fan of who she ends up with…
However, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is a great read that takes you through Addie’s journey of self-discovery. You can definitely track her personal growth throughout the book; from letting the Connally boys take the lead to her finally calling the shots in what – and who – she wants in her life. At a time when opportunities and decisions for women were still rare to come by, Addie is a breath of fresh air, pushing for what is right for herself and for others.
Twisted Talk: Can you escape the past? How do you handle tragedy? Do you read historical fiction? Discuss below!