By Emily GaleYoung Adult Penguin Random House Australia
The Other Side of Summer
Summer is trying to recover from a tragedy, but it seems impossible when her family is falling apart around her. Having an extraordinary best friend like Mal helps a little, but Summer’s secret source of happiness is a link to the past: one very special guitar.
Now her dad’s plan to save them is turning Summer’s life upside down again. The next thing she knows, they’ve moved to the other side of the world.
In Australia, Summer makes an unlikely friend, who seems to be magically connected to her guitar. Is this for real? Has a mysterious boy been sent to help Summer? Or could it be the other way around?
With her family threatening to crumble, Summer is trying to hold the threads of herself together after the death of her brother. Her mother is fading, her sister vicious, and her father is desperately seeking any solution to bring his family to some kind of normalcy. His solution is to move them halfway around the world, from London to Melbourne.
Armed with the Ibanez Artwood guitar that survived the bomb that killed her brother, Summer is whisked away from her friends and the life she’s known. Only the mysterious boy Gabe, whose presence she can’t quite explain, can break through the hard shell Summer has cultivated to cope.
Young adults will identify with Summer’s voice, her path through anguish and her search to belong. The protagonist is thirteen but the writing transcends age structures in its poignancy and deft handling of themes that are universal. Summer and her family don’t just deal with grief, but everything that comes it it’s wake: clinical depression, family dissolution, and the way people grieving need to seek a new normal. Summer’s coming of age weaves through the spaces in between her family’s journey towards healing, with the tenderest of strokes.
The weaving together of contemporary YA fiction and magical realism is wonderfully rendered. The mystery of Gabe’s presence in Summers new life propels the narrative and compels the reader forward through the dual storylines. Gabe is connected in some way to Summer’s Ibanez guitar, and the musicality she gains in seeking to connect with her late brother, and her desire to solve the mystery of Gabe is reflected within Emily Gale’s masterful prose.
The Other Side of Summer is elegantly-written, immersive and magical story of grief, friendship and what it takes to come out the other side.
Part One: England
The Other Side of the Story
The doorbell pierced the grim quiet of our house. Nobody moved. I knew this even though I couldn’t see the others. Our house stirred and breathed with us like old places do. I imagined us four freezing in our separate roosting spots. We, the Jackmans, were never called on unexpectedly anymore.
The doorbell rang again. This time I heard the house ﬁdget. As I poked my head around the doorway of the living room I saw the others coming out of their hiding places. Dad and Wren downstairs like me, and Mum on the upstairs landing, peering over the railing. I told myself it would be the postman at the door, or someone selling dishcloths.
It was the police.
‘I’m Detective Constable Patel and this is Constable Brooks. Sorry to disturb you on a Saturday.’ She spoke gently and with concerned eyes, which we were used to.
By now, my sister was beside me. The police ofﬁcers gave her a look. Most people did.
They’d come to return our lost property: an Ibanez Artwood. It was a dark brown guitar with a burst of orange around the bridge that bled outwards like a ﬁerce sunset. We’d thought it was lost forever. It was supposed to have been blown to pieces, turned to ashes. But there it was. Whole.
‘It’s been assessed and catalogued,’ said one of the ofﬁcers.
I wasn’t paying attention to whichever one of them was speaking. My eyes were on the Ibanez Artwood, returned to us from the dead.
After they’d gone, Dad laid the guitar in the solid case that had been sitting empty for weeks.
‘It’s perfect,’ he said, with a knot in his voice. ‘Not a single mark on it.’
How? I thought. I remembered all the times Mum had shouted at Floyd not to take his guitar busking without a case. This was usually when he was already halfway out the door. He’d smile and say, ‘Don’t worry, Mum. I’ll be careful with it.’
Having the guitar back was like returning to the day when we’d lost my brother. I don’t think Floyd and his Ibanez Artwood had ever been separated before. Now we had one without the other.
The rest of my family scattered to deal with a new wave of pain. Dad went to the kitchen table with his laptop. All I could see was his face poking over the top, as unreadable as an old gravestone. Wren claimed our bedroom – which made it out of bounds to me. Mum shut the door on hers and the low, moaning sounds she made scared me more than anything.
So I stayed in the living room with the Ibanez Artwood.
The guitar case had a purple velvet lining. Somewhere there was a photo of me curled up inside it like a caterpillar in a cocoon, grinning at my brother, who had been behind the camera. I felt a shiver and closed the lid.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I crept downstairs when the house was free of Jackman noises, when the only sounds were the old pipes and the fridge. Kneeling by the case, I ﬂicked the catches open, then stopped.
What did I hope for? A message? A sign?
I could remember two things about my sixth birthday party. The ﬁrst was the cake: a bright red, lopsided toadstool with tiny fairy ﬁgurines dancing underneath it. The second was watching Floyd make our cat dis appear in a magic box. He’d lowered her into it, closed the lid, spun the box around and hey-presto! No Charlotte. Even after I knew about the mirror and the secret compartment, I still thought my big brother was capable of things that ordinary humans weren’t.
I opened the lid of the case and felt almost surprised to ﬁnd the Ibanez Artwood still inside.
I lifted it out, careful not to touch the strings. To hold it was one thing but to hear it would break me apart.
Its curved body was a tight ﬁ t between my lap and my chin. Floyd had been teaching me to play on his spare since I was ten. That one was a little smaller and had always lived on a hook in Floyd’s bedroom. His door was permanently shut, now. In my imagination, opening it would release our horrible screams of that ﬁrst day. Music had been the last thing on our minds since Floyd had gone. But here it was again in the shape of the Ibanez Artwood. I couldn’t help following the guitar’s trail back to Waterloo Station.
The bomb had been inside the big clock, hidden in the space between the four faces. We didn’t know what Floyd had been doing there that day. Maybe that made it worse for us, but it was hard to tell when it was already this painful. Too often I thought about the moment the bomb exploded.
When I pictured it, I slowed down the ticks and tocks of the clock so I could try to understand. Tick … tock. A tick became a tock. A tick became a tock became a tick became a tock, until a tick became a deafening thunder of noise, the ear-splitting roar of a monster released from a tiny box.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-BOOM.
And no tock.
I imagined time had held its breath, then, as I was doing now. I pictured mixed-up matter ﬂying in all directions. Yet random objects had survived, completely whole. For example, the Ibanez Artwood. Who could explain to me how that could be, when bones had splintered violently into dust? Tick, you’re alive. Tock, you’re dead.
My brother, gone.
I rested my cheek on the guitar. It was a survivor. The guitar that never left Floyd’s side was somehow in the right place at the right time, even though it had been in the hands of my brother, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Ibanez Artwood had to be back for a reason. It was so familiar but now it was also strange, like lost things are once they’re found, because it had been somewhere I hadn’t. Somehow I knew its return was the sign of a different, unexpected ending. Suddenly it felt like more than an object, more than mahogany and steel, almost warm-blooded.
In that moment I decided it was my brother’s epilogue, and I wasn’t going to let it out of my sight.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist