Monday, July 3, 2017

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole, 2017

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Today, he’s a high school dropout with no future.
Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II.

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.

But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him.

(322 pages)

Some of my favorite story tropes include childhood friends falling in love, time travel, and kids healing and growing after parental abandonment. Cold Summer has all three of those, so it seems like it should be perfect for me.

And in some way, it is. I really, really enjoyed reading it. Kale and Harper's relationship is so beautiful, built on the shared experiences of their childhoods. They trust each other completely and it's beautiful to watch. Kale's struggles with his uncontrollable time travel and the PTSD from living as a soldier during WWII are tragic, though also preventable (he's literally offered an out at one point!) and occasionally skated past (we spend a lot more time in the drama of the present than in the life-or-death horror of the past). The storylines about Harper's neglectful-to-the-point-of-abandonment mother and Kale's tense-and-angry father are very delicately and honestly done.

But at the same time, the book isn't perfect. Like I said, I liked the romance between Kale and Harper–but I also didn't like how physical things got between them. At one point, they nearly even had sex! Also, the language was less than ideal: swears are littered here and there, and the f-word is even used maybe once a chapter. It's used during times of great stress usually, sure, but that's still not great especially for younger readers. I thought Harper's abandonment issues were dealt with way too quickly at the end, and the time travel mechanism still seems kind of hazy to me. I like the "purpose" they realize Kale's experiences served, but it seems really random that he was chosen for that one thing out of everything he could have done throughout history.

All that aside, I still spent a couple of hours reading and enjoying Cold Summer. It's a good summer read, full of plot and grit while somehow managing to simultaneously be rather fluffy. If you're curious, and you don't mind the medium to high-level racy material and swearing, then you might like it. Let us know in the comments section what you think if you do decide to read it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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