review by Maryom
Katie has had a long-term crush on Luke McCallister, ever since 10th grade. Now she's 18, just finishing school; he, three years older, is back from Vietnam. With the long summer ahead, it's time for Katie to make her move. Meanwhile, for one last summer before 'real life' begins, she hangs out with her friends in their beach-side home-town ....
If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful is an evocation of one early 70s summer in the fictional, run-down Long Island resort of Elephant Beach - a place where, for Katie and her friends at least, life revolves around the beach and
the main street - from Eddy's candy store at one end to The Starlight
hotel at the other.
Set in the gap between high school and college, there's a lot of similarities with other coming of age novels - the drugs and drink, sex and teen pregnancies, the assumption that this group of friends is special and won't make the mistakes their parents did, the belief that they are on the brink of something exciting while realising that this moment in time won't come again, and in the background the horrors of the Vietnam war. What makes it stand out is the beautiful way it is written, nostalgic for a time that probably was never quite as good as the memory of it, that moment just before naive youth tips over into worldly adulthood.
I received my proof copy of this months ago, couldn't wait, and so read it far too early to actually write the review. Last week, as I was writing up my notes, I picked it up again to remind me of its feel and mood, and was completely hooked again, so much so that I had to tear myself away to get this finished!
First time through, I'd been a little wrong-footed as I'd expected a love story solely about Katie and Luke, but Katie is as much an observer and recorder of the lives of others as she is of her own. The whole capturing of one last carefree summer is broken down into a series of vignettes focussing on the individuals within the group - each getting their little bit of fame before dropping back to the chorus.
On paper it didn't ought to be a cheery book - so many of the kids in it are messing up their lives, while thinking they're being 'adult', and the Vietnam veterans among them are scarred by their experiences in ways that no one understands - but there was something in it that spoke to me, and which I loved; maybe just for capturing that feeling of invincibility and entitlement that we have as teens, when all the world lies before us - and all of it will be good.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Tinder Press
Genre - Adult/YA crossover, fiction, literary, coming of age,