Firstly, let me tell you how much I love Simone Elkeles. I first came across her books by chance when a good friend at work received a copy of 'Perfect Chemistry' and urged me to read it. I was a bit unsure as I was worried it would be a cliched tale of star-crossed lovers. When another proof copy arrived in the shop I decided to take a chance on it and was BLOWN AWAY. I loved the characters, I loved the writing and I knew I was hooked by the fact that I stayed up far too late to finish reading. I was supremely touched by the book and although I found the epilogue a bit unnecessary, 'Perfect Chemistry' immediately made it onto my list of favourite YA novels. I've since read 'Leaving Paradise' and most recently 'The Rules of Attraction' and really enjoyed both.
Which brings me onto the book in question, 'How to Ruin A Summer Vacation'. When I became aware of Simone's books I quickly scoured the internet to find out what else she had written. I'm surprised that this series hasn't had as much attention as her others, I can only assume this is partly because they have only been published in the US. I don't think the covers do the books any favours either but if you overlook that this first volume is worth a look.
'How to Ruin A Summer Vacation' follows 16-year-old Amy who spends the summer in Israel with her estranged Father Ron, meeting family she didn't know existed and didn't know of her existence either. From the outset I found the path of the book pretty clear, as I assumed Amy would initially experience a culture shock before starting to see the good side of meeting her family and discovering her heritage. My initial assumptions proved to be correct in that Amy spends the first part of the book behaving like a spoilt brat and then later opens her mind a little.
I did find the pacing of the book a little off as it felt like Amy swung from hating her Father to loving him rather abruptly. Similarly the love interest seems to go from 0 to 50 in seconds, and as I read the romantic scenes with Avi I couldn't help but regard them as a prototype for the scenes Simone would write a few years later for the rather lovely Fuentes boys. That aside however and in light of the fact this is her debut, 'How to Ruin A Summer Vacation' does have its good points. As always Elkeles writes assuredly about a teen wrestling to find their identity and the challenges faced by who they are and how others view them.
Although not my favourite of Simone Elkeles books as I didn't warm to Amy very much throughout, I do think 'How to Ruin A Summer Vacation' is a solid basis for a series and I expect Amy will mature throughout the two subsequent books. Confronting the issues of religion, identity and family, this book demonstrates some key themes throughout Simone's books and is worth a look for anyone who has enjoyed her more well-known novels.
Star Rating: 3 stars