October 2021

Growing up in the 21st century is not easy. Not that it’s ever been easy, but at least previous generations didn’t have to cope with all the technical advancements purported to make our lives easier, or so they say. Now a young person’s “job” isn’t just to figure out who they are and what they’re going to do with their lives. Now they have more stress and tension added to the mix while the train of thought is derailed every few minutes to respond to the next Tweet or other app demanding attention.

Above all, peer acceptance, body image, and one’s outward appearance are paramount to support the persona being projected to the world on social media. Bullying and just general meanness are not welcome, though there is no shortage of either expressed anonymously, especially if the target is “different” in some way.

Daphne Berg and Drue Cavanaugh met in sixth grade. Daphne was new to the school and class, and being introduced by the teacher was a mortifying experience for her. Intelligent, kind, an only child of loving and creative parents, creative in her own right, Daphne focused instead on her body image. She saw everything first through the prism of being overweight with all the negativity that comes with that for a child seeking just to fit in. She didn’t want to be different, or at least not different in her particular way.

Imagining what the other students thought of seeing her for the first time, of how they would judge her, Daphne’s low self-esteem led to severe embarrassment at being singled out for attention. She and the rest of the class were therefore surprised when the prettiest, most popular girl in the class took Daphne under her wing.

Drue Cavanaugh was beautiful even at that age. Her family was wealthy and influential in New York and the Northeast, where earlier generations had also lived and prospered. Her appearance evoked a much different reaction from everyone she met and those around her than Daphne’s did. What they didn’t know was that Drue’s family situation was terrible: conflict and strife, a focus on material things, unhappy parents verging on divorce, a largely absent father whose affection she sought, but which he did not give to his legal family, and who secretly fathered other children. Drue learned to use her looks, her family’s status, and her money to coerce people into doing what she wanted. She used people because she learned from her family.

Daphne and Drue were “friends” throughout their teen years. Sometimes Drue even considered Daphne to be her best friend, but overall, it was a relationship that waxed and waned. At times Drue used Daphne to complete school assignments or for other purposes.

When they were nineteen, an event occurred that severed the relationship for six years. Drue arranged a date for Daphne, and Daphne overheard a very unflattering conversation between Drue and the date. It was a last straw for Daphne: she caused a scene which someone caught on camera, of course, and posted online. She was humiliated by her act and the fact that it would live online for eternity.

Then amid the insults and meanness, she found comments of support from other young women. By then she was mature enough to understand that she could provide support and advice to others like herself–and in the process, she helped herself.

Daphne had in fact cobbled together a satisfactory living and career online as an influencer; a sort of after-school nanny to two local children; and by selling her artistic creations on Etsy. When Drue appeared after six years of no contact asking for Daphne to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, Daphne refused at first, not wanting to disrupt her life again for Drue until Drue admitted she didn’t have enough other friends to fill the need.

That, my friends, is where the story gets REALLY INTERESTING. I’m not going to give away even one clue. I’ll simply say that readers will not be bored by the many surprises you’ll encounter and won’t see coming. Many of you may have read one or more of the 13 previous fiction works by Weiner. I’ll tell you that she has honed her craft well.

One thing I will caution readers about, however: readers may find the first section about social media a bit boring and unnecessarily long. I see the point of educating readers who may not be too familiar with the topic & how it works. But I do think readers can skim some of it without losing anything relating to the rest of the story if they wish.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote Daphne sent to a teenage girl on Instagram:

“I’m not brave all the time. No one is. We’ve all been disappointed; we’ve all had our hearts broken, and we’re all just doing our best. Make sure you have people who love you, the real you, not the Instagram you. If you can’t be brave, pretend to be brave, and if you can’t do that yet, know that you aren’t alone. Everyone you see is struggling. Nobody has it all figured out.” [pp. 352-353]

Big Summer has been touted as a “beach read,” but in my opinion, it’s more than that. It sounds to me like good advice for ANY human being.

This book will be available at Grover Beach Community Library.