After her father’s wedding, while Dad and his new wife are honeymooning in Greece, the plan was for Emma to stay at her friend’s house. And when that plan falls through, the only option that they can come up with is to send Emma to stay with her maternal grandmother in North Lake.
Emma has only ever been to North Lake once (when she was four) and has no memory of the visit. But before her mother died, Emma used to love to hear stories of the Lake, even if the stories always seemed a bit fantastic and surreal.
Once there, Emma discovers that while she has no memory of the place, she has an eclectic family and old friends that do. They even call her by her middle name ("Saylor") despite her efforts to explain that everyone back home calls her "Emma." They have plenty of stories about her mother (and father) that fill in gaps for that Emma has always wondered about (e.g., how her parents really met, why her father never brought her back to visit, etc.).
The time goes by quickly and when her parents return to the States and come to get her, she finds that she wants to spend more time with this side of the family she doesn't know. It's then that she finds just how alienated her father is from the North Lake relations. Saylor/Emma is torn between the sides, a conflict only resolved by an Act of God.
A touching story of southern family life, with all the poignancy for which Dessen is renown. The writing is beautiful, even if the template is so well-worn: the intelligent young woman who wrestles with her family for autonomy, the outsider boy who is intelligent and responsible, and a tight group of friends who spend the summer goofing off. One of these days, Dessen will write a dystopian and surprise me, but for now, it’s a template that works.
In comparison with her more recent books, this is stronger take on her perennial themes. There are a lot of characters, but surprisingly, they can be sorted out. And the story, which does resort to melodrama in the end, is generally interesting with a touch of humor at the right moments. And for those who are regular Dessen readers, you can be assured that Spinnerbait appears!