Updated: Sep 26
Title: Night Owls and Summer Skies
Author: Rebecca Sullivan
Published: 20th June 2020
Genres: LGBT, Romance, Fiction, Young Adult Pages: 288
Start Date: 2nd September 2022
Finish Date: 3rd September 2022
You have to step off the trail to find your path.
When her mother unceremoniously dumps her at Camp Mapplewood for the summer, Emma Lane’s hopes of repairing their fractured relationship are gone with the wind. Now she’s stuck in the wilderness facing her worst fears. Trees? Terrifying. Spiders? Even worse. And don’t even get Emma started on how she feels about camp activities. But Emma’s got a plan, and she will do anything in her power to get kicked out of camp, from sleeping in to playing practical jokes on her fellow campers. Yet when Emma draws the attention of her illusive and attractive camp counselor Vivian Black, she has to come to terms with the fact that how her summer starts isn’t necessarily how it might end. Will Vivian be the key to unlocking Emma’s fears once and for all?
I love the relationship between Emma and her dad. He doesn’t care or mind about her sexuality. All that’s important to him is her mental health. They have open discussions from the very first page about her wellbeing. It’s so great that we see a good relationship between LGBT youth and their parent. He’s there for her and she knows this because he took actions. He got her homeschooled for a year, gained custody of Emma, diligently helped her tackle her mental health issues, unlike her mother. What I like about this book is the aftermath of getting help. They can have discussions about how Emma is feeling. It’s very refreshing to have a main character who has already done the big step of getting help. It’s important for people to see these stories where the main character maintains their mental health because there isn’t a ‘cure-all’ which the author does well throughout the book. The author doesn’t shy away from problems like homophobia with Emma’s mother. Emma’s mother is caught up in her own world with her new husband and didn’t plan for Emma’s stay with her for the summer so Emma is sent to a summer camp.
I am a sucker for books that have family dynamic so the disappointment with Emma’s father out of the picture until the end soon was put aside. The entire Black family makes an appearance and brings her into the fold. Emma discovers new coping mechanisms and a new passion. Cooking. It’s an accidental discovery because it was a punishment. She uses the kitchen space to take time to herself when she’s anxious which was particularly relatable. It was enjoyable and cute that she spent time with Julie Black, the love interest’s mother when Emma accidentally tells Vivian that she loves her. It’s so awkward and sudden that it flashed me back to the past where I had similar outbursts and escaped in a similar fashion. Julie is the opposite of Emma’s mother. She’s warm and takes the time to teach Emma cooking. The fact that Julie Black is so accepting of Emma and her own daughter’s sexuality is just another perfect moment.
It is interesting how Rebecca Sullivan includes the theme of bullying in the book. It’s not explicit, it’s not triggering, but it is there. Gwen Black is Emma’s new friend and she is isolated from the ‘Beaver’ camping group because of the book’s antagonist, Lauren. It’s very realistic because it’s a form of bullying that’s hard to report and detect. You can’t exactly force people to be friends with a person. It hits home. More importantly, it’s something people don’t talk about often because who wants to admit to having no friends when there are ‘worse issues’ like physical violence or cyberbullying? You don’t see this tactic displayed in books much. It’s a very realistic portrayal and it hurts the reader more because we learn that Gwen is the type of friend that you would want by your side. Emma and Gwen’s relationship is natural because they both deal with the issues of anti-socialism whether it be from mental health issues or bullying. I really liked their friendship.
For a while, I thought Gwen was the love interest but then Vivian showed up and it was no longer a guessing game. At first, I thought it would be Lauren, classic enemies to lovers trope, but I’m glad it didn’t go down that route. Emma’s relationship with Vivian Black and Lauren’s is an important distinction. Lauren barrels through personal boundaries, and has one-sided vicious conversations with Emma and well Lauren is Gwen’s bully. She shows no respect for Emma. Whereas Vivian and Emma’s relationship is a mutual teasing. They both enjoy the banter between them. Vivian is there for Emma when she has a panic attack, (which was a very realistic portrayal of the moment, the thoughts, the physical reaction, the wanting to be alone). Vivian hammers the importance of consent with other campers and the main pairing put this into practice, which is a relief because Vivian is a counsellor and a person in a position of power, which is why it’s great that it’s Emma that makes the first moves. Vivian trusts Emma with Gwen.
This made my heart melt. I cannot even begin to describe how much I ship Emma and Vivian. Their characters are perfect, their dynamic is perfect. They fit into each other's lives perfectly. They were literally made for each other. Something this sweet should be sickening, but all I wanted to do was reach into the book and squeeze them together. I was a little taken aback by the promises of forever at the end, but it wasn't entirely rushed. They have had a wildly intense camp experience.
The panic attack scene was especially relatable. Not only was the thought process spot on but the aftermath of experiencing it was realistic too. I won't spoil anything but the fatigue after the panic attack was accurate. People forget to write about that part. I have different ticks when it comes to my anxiety but I do know some friends experience it in a similar way to Emma. I'll be recommending this book to them. Most people don't understand that anxiety doesn't only stem from social situations. It can manifest in other parts of life too. This book understood that.
Let's talk supporting characters. The Black family is adorable, and despite Emma's apparent prickliness, they warm up to her and all but initiate her as one of them. Emma's father is a good contrast with her mother, because one neglecting, homophobic parent is more than enough. The rest of the Beavers are your average teen girls. Lauren's character demands no sympathy with her twisted ways of achieving her goals, as well as her misguided idea of consent. Jessie doesn't redeem herself either, but her spinelessness was evident from day one.
Overall, it's a great debut it is fluffy, light-hearted teen fiction that has definitely been a read that I thoroughly enjoyed.