I love a good time-travel novel, especially because people have come up with so many different ways time-travel can work, and so many different challenges that arise. Cold Summer by Gwen Cole was not the most unusual, but it had an interesting premise.
Kale has always disappeared–his friends and family have simply treated it as his way, to apparently go off for a few days at a time. But at seventeen, the disappearances are happening more and more frequently, and only a trusted few understand why. Kale is a time-traveler, unable to control his slips back into the past. To make matters worse, for the past six months Kale has only gone back to one place: World War II, as a soldier on the front lines. In the present he’s suffering from PTSD and a growing estrangement from his life. Meanwhile, next door neighbor and childhood friend Harper has recently moved back to town, dealing with her own family crises. Something begins to kindle between Harper and Kale, even while Kale’s time-travel threatens to tear him out of his present-day life for good.
This was a little bit like The Time-Traveler’s Wife-light (with 100% less nudity!) Kale slips through time suddenly, uncontrollably and apparently randomly, until his recent ongoing secondary life in World War II. The challenge of living two parallel lives was intriguing, especially with one as intense as the front lines of a war.
Harper got a little short-shrifted in the plot summary. The book is as much about her as it is about Kale, it’s just that the premise centers around Kale. Harper has a less active role (I’m trying not to see that through a feminist lens…) but she has a lot going on emotionally around her mother. I also enjoy that the “girl next door” (she even gets called that directly) happens to be into online gaming. It’s a nice departure from the classics for that particular character role.
The time-travel rules and method get explained as the book unfolds and holds together pretty tightly. There’s even an explanation by the end giving some purpose to the whole thing–although it feels a little pushed into the last third. It totally works philosophically, but plot-wise it feels slightly forced.
What didn’t hold quite so well for me was the Kale/Harper relationship, though in a specific and unusual way. The two of them are cute together when they’re together, and I buy them as a couple. The trouble is that their emotional investment seems inconsistent. They were really close personal friends as children and immediately will be again when Harper moves back…but haven’t communicated for six years, barring the occasional Facebook like. They maybe kinda sorta had a thing for each other back in the day (when they were twelve???) but are also perpetually surprised to have feelings for each other in the present (like, it surprises them more than once…) They’re very close but also very uncomfortable about kissing. It was…kind of whip-lashy?
This might be me. This might be me not appreciating the confusing nature of teenage emotions and not accepting that not everyone feels things and then thinks in great detail about why they’re having a feeling (I do that, often). But it was a little whip-lashy reading.
My favorite character, possibly, has not been mentioned because he plays a supporting role–Uncle Jasper (Harper’s official uncle, Kale’s unofficial one) is just one of those really good guys. He watches out for both our protagonists, in a way that’s protective but not smothering while both are struggling with their parent relationships. What really got me though is that Jasper is grieving his wife’s death, and I liked how that was shown. There were some nice, touching moments of the little pains of a huge loss. And I liked that it celebrated and acknowledged the romantic love between a much older couple, even after one member is gone.
So this was a pretty good book with good moments. It didn’t always thread together as well as I’d like, but it was an entertaining and engaging read.
Author’s Site: http://gwenmcole.com/
Buy it here: Cold Summer
One thought on “Book Review: Cold Summer”
Time travel seems like it would be complicated to write, especially with angst-y teenage protagonists. I’m impressed that you think this story did hold up pretty well all-in-all.