Just 18 Summers by Rene Gutteridge and Michelle Cox
Just 18 Summers is particularly relevant for many readers because it is about the brevity of parenthood, the struggles parents experience, and at least in the Western culture, trying to balance busy lives with our children’s need for us to be there for them. Four families loosely connected to each other become the backdrop for the events embroidered on it. Some of the scenes are funny, some are poignant, some are very serious in nature. The book touched my heart in a good way, and I hope it does the same for you.
Butch Browning was suddenly thrown into single fatherhood when his young wife died in a car crash. Butch and Jenny’s daughter was 8 going on twenty it seemed. Since the day he received news of his wife’s death, he could barely function in real life. He didn’t know anything about rearing a little girl. His sister-in-law Beth offered her assistance, but his pride refused to allow anyone to help. So they struggled on with sometimes humorous results. Butch owned a small construction
company with his best friend Tippy as foreman. Friends often do for each other, so Butch didn’t resent it when Tippy came over to commiserate.
Tippy, however, was having problems of his own. His wife Daphne was pregnant with their first child. Tippy thought she was high strung before the pregnancy, but now she was fanatical about child care, child rearing and safety, and parenthood in general. He admitted to Butch that she had bought nearly 50 books on the topic. She wanted him to read them all as well, and quizzed him on what he read. But it seemed all the articles and books and research she has read has only caused more tension as she strove to change every aspect of their former lifestyle. It was starting to drive Tippy crazy. He turned to Butch for advice and distraction. When he took on extra hours at work, his absence only drove the wedge deeper. Daphne found some consolation in the scrapbooking group she attended once a week. The group had been started by Jenny, Butch’s wife.
Beth Anderson was also a part of the scrapbooking group her sister Jenny had started. It was a bright spot in what looked to be a difficult summer. Larry and Beth Anderson lived in a nice neighborhood. Larry was a great provider which allowed Beth to stay at home with their three children. But regrets reared their ugly heads after the death of Beth’s sister. She realized how fleeting life really was, and it hit her hard when their oldest son graduated from high school. Larry, too, felt the crunch of time when he understood this was the last summer their family would experience as a whole unit. When Robin, 21, announced her engagement and upcoming marriage in the Fall, Beth went through full-blown panic, while Larry launched his last ditch effort towards family unity that he called “The Summer of Intense Fun.” His plans worked fine with the boys as they went from one crazy scheme to another, but it left Beth devastated because her daughter would not allow her to assist with the wedding preparations–something she had dreamed of doing since Robin’s birth. She was left bereft over her sister’s death and the imminent loss of two of her children. She did not handle all this change very well. She felt deeply her plunge from supermom to blubbering, chaotic mess.
Across the hedge from the Andersons were Charles and Helen Buckley. Helen was also part of the scrapbooking group Jenny had organized. They had noticed the sudden frenetic activity in their neighbor’s yard–strange games with whipped cream and cherries, rocket-powered kites, picnics, charades, and Pictionary. It was not dignified and Helen was unsettled by it all. Charles hadn’t noticed much because he was always away at work. But their youngest boy Cory noticed, wistfully. He wished his dad would make a kite with him, but his family was too buttoned-up to have fun together like the Andersons.
One of the many things I loved about this book is the humor embedded in the multiple streams of the plot lines. For me, one of the funniest incidents was when the culinary-challenged dad, Butch, was to bake cupcakes for Ava’s class. I could only laugh when Tippy showed up with a toolbox, especially later when they lost a screwdriver in the batter. I really have to try using a glass to cut out cupcake shapes from a sheetcake, just once. But the peanut butter covered beef jerky with M&M’s on top really struck my funny bone. How could we not chuckle at such attempts to make little Ava’s upside down life turn topside. I give Butch an A for effort.
If you read many of my reviews, you may notice that faith is one element of a story I appreciate most. I’m not talking about organized religion, but of a deep spiritual relationship we can have with God through Jesus Christ. That relationship can be as close or distant as we choose. Because of that, we are all at different stages in that relationship. We go through steps of struggle and resolution as we journey through life learning to trust God. Just 18 Summers illustrates this point very well. I admire how the authors used a licensed Christian counselor with the many individuals grappling with their life stage of trust in God’s plan. The friends also encouraged and shared their experiences with each other, listened and empathized, modeling what Christian fellowship should look like.
I enjoy character-based books as well as I like adventure and action books. Characterization is important in this book, especially in the addition of the deceased Jennifer Browning, whose presence is felt all throughout the story. In fact, her absence is the catalyst for the fallout two main characters experience and is the element the authors use to further bind the four families together. Her loss served to create tension; eventually that tension is resolved through the events of the storyline.
Throughout the book, a single theme rings out loud and clear: time is short and you may never recover special family moments if you allow them to slip past you. Because four families are struggling with this basic factor, it tends to get repeated often in various ways. I found this a tad bit irritating. But that’s just me. Overall, I give this book two thumbs up and recommend it to parents in all stages of life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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