When their Aunt Lydia dies, half-sisters Peck and Cassie converge on her summer house in the Hamptons to carry out the wishes stipulated in her will. Aunt Lydia would like them to spend one last summer at the house before selling it and, while there, find a thing of utmost value.
Pecksland (Peck for short) and Cassie (although Peck prefers to call her Stella) are exact opposites. Peck, an actress, is all drama with an outfit and shoes for every occasion. She is always concerned with a “situation,” which can range from a true problem to her sister's lack of fashion sense. Cassie is a serious journalist and translator living in Switzerland and cares little for fashion, much to the horror of her sister. She's a recent divorcee deeply mourning her aunt's death and has little in common with the sister she doesn't always believe she's related to.
Aunt Lydia was a devotee of F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, and she has instilled that same love in her nieces. The book, and all their aunt loved about it, is the source of Peck and Cassie's greatest memories of their aunt and the cottage. Aunt Lydia also liked to think of herself as a patron of the arts and always had an artist living at Fool's House to give it that artsy vibe. The current resident is an unusual character who neither sister can figure out, but since he was there at the request of their aunt, they're willing to live with him and his antics until they can decide what to do with the place.
Their first night at the cottage, they go to a party at the house of Miles Noble, an old love of Peck's. The party, Gatsby-themed, is all it can be expected to be --- expensive and outlandish (everyone is requested to wear white, and women are to wear hats). Peck believes the party is a way for Miles to get her back but is disappointed when she finds out the party was the vision of a hired party planner and not something dreamed up by Miles himself. She's even more frustrated when she finds out that he never finished THE GREAT GATSBY, only enough to impress her. Cassie, on the other hand, meets a man she falls for instantly and is appalled when she finds out who he really is the next day.
Spending their days sorting through papers and looking for a thing of utmost value bring Peck and Cassie a closeness they never really thought possible. They decide to carry out their aunt's wishes and host the official Fool's Party to open the summer. The party, which is a success, leaves the sisters with a problem --- a painting that hung over the fireplace for as long as they both remember goes missing, and they begin to speculate that it might actually be the thing of great value. The two gather a strange and wonderful cast of characters to help them find the painting and, in the process, find a true family, love, and that they really are sisters with a lot in common.
I remember reading THE GREAT GATSBY and falling in love with the setting and the characters, and wondering if people like them actually existed in the world. They do, just not in the world I live in. But that didn't stop me from me from being fascinated anyway. I felt much the same about this book. Danielle Ganek brings together some truly wonderful characters who make you want to rush off to live at Fool's House. Peck is full of fun and brings a new outlook to life that Cassie never let herself imagine. The sisters inhabit a strange little world, and in an odd way it brings the two together.
Witty and sarcastic at times, you have no choice but to fall for everyone at Fool's House. Ganek makes it easy for you to do so, and when the end comes, you'll be sorry to see it wrap up. You don't have to be on the beach to enjoy this book, but I think it's certainly an excellent summer read. Ganek will make you smile and want to break out the beach chair.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 23, 2011
The Summer We Read Gatsby