Summer of '69 by Todd Strasser
Published by Candlewick Press on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 384 pages Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
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With his girlfriend, Robin, away in Canada, eighteen-year-old Lucas Baker's only plans for the summer are to mellow out with his friends, smoke weed, drop a tab or two, and head out in his microbus for a three-day happening called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. But life veers dramatically off track when he suddenly finds himself in danger of being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam. If that isn't heavy enough, there's also the free-loving (and undeniably alluring) Tinsley, who seems determined to test Lucas's resolve to stay faithful to Robin; a frighteningly bad trip at a Led Zeppelin concert; a run-in with an angry motorcycle gang; parents who appear headed for a divorce; and a friend on the front lines in 'Nam who's in mortal danger of not making it back. As the pressures grow, it's not long before Lucas finds himself knocked so far down, it's starting to look like up to him. When tuning in, turning on, and dropping out is no longer enough, what else is there?
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I did not think I was going to like this book? Right off the bat, I’m not saying it’s the best book ever, but I requested this ARC on a whim because I like the publishing house and I haven’t really read much about the ’60s. A lot of the reviews leading up were talking about the focus on drugs and for some reason I thought there was going to be a lot of focus on Woodstock.
While the drugs were a constant presence, I think Summer of ’69 was mostly about the fear of the future in a time where many people’s future was uncertain. There’s a lot of conversation about the Vietnam War and Lucas trying to get Conscientious Objector status. Like I said, I don’t know much about this era outside of basic popular culture, so hearing about Thomas Aquinas was interesting. I also think it’s worth noting that the book was written by someone who lived through the era and not just a piece of historical fiction based on a lot of research. Despite all the best research, personal experience makes a big difference in the genuine voice of a piece.
Lucas as a character really bothered me, but not because he’s poorly written. Lucas reminds me of an ex-boyfriend, of whom I have very cringy memories. Lucas isn’t a bad person, but he doesn’t seem to understand how the world works. Yet, at the same time, he’s very aware of this personal failing, and agrees when other people tell him about it. The character has a lot of blind spots, and he knows it, but he still behaves poorly. He’s a rich white kid and he knows he’s privileged. Whenever the Panthers are brought up, he seems to get uncomfortable, but there’s no blatant racism. I didn’t like Lucas, but I’ve seen people like him.
The relationship aspect was what was most uncomfortable to me. Lucas was a heavy drug user without a plan for the rest of his life or interest in really changing. He was a lot of hot air. And I’m not just talking marijuana – the kid was dropping acid all the time with the overture “I’m going to stop soon”. His girlfriend, Robin, is away counseling at camp and expresses that she’s not comfortable with their relationship or the person she is when she’s with him or his constant drug use. She essentially dumps him in multiple letters and Lucas’s response to this is to beg her not to leave him and promise to change and to profess his undying love. It’s like… no matter what she says, it just makes him cling more. From a purely literary point-of-view, I get that Robin is the only thing in Lucas’s life that probably feels stable, but the emotional manipulation is just not okay. Of all his behavior, I suppose it’s weird that I’m latching on to the way he behaves as a boyfriend, but honestly between him begging her to stay while he has a fling with Tinsley… it wasn’t okay. Nothing to do with the writing – I just thought Lucas was a bit of a crappy person.
The story didn’t really go anywhere, a slice of life for a white boy just out of high school in ’69 who is afraid of being drafted and afraid of all the changes around him. It drew me in a lot more than I thought. There was something lyrical to the way it was written. I also liked all the short poems interwoven in the story. I’m not sorry for reading it, and I think that people interested in the era and in historical fiction would most likely enjoy Summer of ’69.
Summer of ’69 will be donated.
While I liked this book well enough, I didn’t like Lucas enough to want to revisit the story and try it again. I don’t feel like I missed many details or that I could glean anything else off a reread, and as such, there’s not much point in me giving Summer of ’69 a permanent place on my shelf.
Are you interested in the 1960s? It’s not one of the sections of historical fictions I tend to gravitate to, but I found this novel interested. Tell me your favorite era of historical fiction in the comments!