Robin is a talented, passionate high school musician, working at the Grape County Dairy diner during summer break to save money towards a new guitar. Smarting a bit from being dumped by musician hottie, Trent, Robin makes a list detailing the Perfect Man and determines to wait for him while focusing on her music. Then, Carter Paulson walks in the door of the diner one sunny afternoon. Carter is gorgeous and has eyes that sparkle with good humor and mystery, qualities that quickly move him up on Robin's list. Then, she discovers that Carter is profoundly deaf. Using a pad of paper and a pen, Robin attempts to communicate with Carter, surprising them both in the process. When he returns to the diner and asks her on a date, Robin says yes, thus sparking a summer of romance and adventure.
I was excited to receive an eARC of Song of Summer from the publisher. It promised romance, a focus on music, and best of all, a deaf main character! I am a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) myself, raised by two deaf parents, so I am intimately familiar with deaf culture, how the deaf community perceives the hearing world, and how the world perceives the deaf community in return. I had cautiously high hopes that all of these things would be handled with a deft, gentle hand, and for the most part, they were. Where the book excelled was in offering a sweet, summertime romance, portrayal of solid family units, and a peek into the mind of someone whose soul is steeped in music. Where the book disappointed was lack of character depth, inconsistencies in character behavior and knowledge, and the rather abrupt, unsatisfying way the book ended.
Caution: There may be some spoilers within the review below.
Despite their differences, Robin and Carter both make an attempt to fit into each other's world. Robin's life revolves around music, singing, and performing at the local church. Carter is part of a close-knit family, most of whom are deaf, as well as a deaf community in New York. When he's with hearing people, he is often left out of conversations, and so he is most comfortable with those like him. It's sadly ironic that Robin and Carter fall for each other, when their differences are so inherent and almost impossible to overcome.
The romance between the two teens was sweet and swoony, but did feel a little rushed. On one hand, it seemed natural to me that Carter would fall quickly for a cute, vibrant girl who took the time to learn sign language and make him part of her world. On the other hand, neither teen really shared their innermost selves with each other. Robin was crazy about music, yet downplayed her passion when Carter was around almost to the very end. Carter never talked about his failed Cochlear Implant (CI) surgery, or about how left out he often felt with hearing people. Yet, they felt comfortable enough with their feelings to declare their love for each other.
Robin, for her part, embraced Carter's deafness in stride, and taught herself some sign language by watching videos at home and picking up on various signs while communicating with Carter and his family. This is where I found some inconsistencies in character behavior and knowledge. Sometimes, Robin could sign whole sentences, which would be rather complicated for someone who had only been learning for a month; other times, she would use her pad of paper and pen for a simple three-word reply. My dad was a professor of American Sign Language for many years, and it took his students much longer than a month to learn to string together sentence after sentence in a competent manner. While it wasn't entirely realistic, Robin's eagerness to learn and use sign language was encouraging, and indicative of her big heart.
There were some interesting moments where, while hanging out with Robin and her friends, Carter was left out of conversations. This is a common issue for those in the deaf community. If someone makes a comment that they don't catch, when they inquire as to what was said, they're usually brushed off with a, "Oh, nothing," or "Never mind." Imagine how frustrating that must be! Robin, on the other hand, dealt with some guilt in wanting Carter to be able to hear, convinced that if he could, he would finally "get" why music is so important to her. Neither of them were wrong in wanting the other to be able to share the most important part of their lives, but their immaturity did shine through in their inability to communicate the importance of these things to the other person.
When something happens in the last quarter of the book that causes Robin to think Carter has been hiding something important from her, she completely loses her cool. She throws a temper tantrum (at a church, no less), tells him that he's a liar and a fraud, and to never see or speak to her again. She doesn't give him a chance to explain, nor does she stop to reason with herself as to what actually happened. This particular scene made me rather angry, because Robin was clearly smart enough to have figured out things on her own, and frankly, she should have. Carter had every right to be angry with Robin, yet he's the one who later feels sorry about what happened.
This leads me to the end of the book. I don't necessarily require closure or a happily-ever-after, but the final scene felt rushed and left me unsatisfied. Some have speculated that there will be a follow-up book to Song of Summer. I might be curious to read it if indeed there is one. I'm curious to know what Robin feels she has learned through her mistakes, and whether or not she will do the right thing in regard to Carter.
Overall, Song of Summer was an easy read, perfect for a sunny, summer day. While the romance aspect makes brings a lighter aspect to the story, it also offers a thought-provoking look into the life of someone who is hearing impaired, and the difficulties they experience in attempting to navigate a world that caters to those who can hear. I wish there were more books that featured deaf characters, and I applaud Laura Lee Anderson for her efforts. I suggest you give this book a try, dear readers, and please do come back to share your thoughts with me!
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this publication in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.