There is something odd about Ann Brashares' first adult novel, The Last Summer (of You & Me), and I figured out what it was about a quarter of the way through. It's not just the title, which makes you wonder which of the three main characters (sisters Alice and Riley and their beachhouse neighbor Paul) is excluded from the twosome. It's the slow, dreamy quality to the book, and it took me a while to realize where it was coming from. It's the fact that all of the "action" is internal thought.
For the first half of the book, you have nothing to judge the characters on except for their thoughts. Brashares avoided making them seem whiny and self-absorbed by having them think about each other, rather than themselves. So you learn that Riley is, at 24, still the tomboy that she always was by hearing it from her sister and her best friend. You know that Paul was Riley's partner in crime from an early age by hearing Alice tell it. And you know how smart Alice is by hearing it from Riley, who was never much at anything that required sitting still.
The book is about the ambivalence of leaving childhood and growing up. The trio has resisted it for a long time. They deliberately held themselves aloof from the spin-the-bottle games and the parties involving the liquor cabinet of someone's mom and dad. Into their teens and twenties, they continued fishing for crabs, building sandcastles, and collecting shells and stones from the beach. But adulthood beckons to all three. Alice is heading to law school and knows that she'll spend the rest of her summers working, probably until her children are the age she is now, if not longer. Paul is also heading to graduate school, but he's back for one last summer to see Alice, whom he's loved since childhood.
Riley continues walking her own, odd, straight line as a lifeguard at the beach by summer, and a leader of National Outdoor Leadership Seminar programs the rest of the year, but the world changes around her. Alice observes her on the beach at her morning lifeguard meeting, suddenly noticing that Riley's co-workers are all teenaged bikini girls. We never get Riley's perspective on her life, but Alice has noticed a shift from when they were kids and everyone looked up to Riley because she was the best at crab fishing and boogie boarding. She's slowly realizing that with her good looks and her career ambitions, she is now the sister that people will be looking up to, and it both thrills her and makes her uncomfortable, as does the changing nature of her relationship with Paul.
A series of events conspires to force all of these issues and more. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that I think it's a bit of a cop-out, and it would have been interesting to develop things differently. The book is still a good read, and was downright heavenly in upstate New York in January, when it's awfully hard to believe in things like shorts and fireflies.