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A Year of Books
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School's out for summer

4th August 2011 - Emily Best

The Days Are Just PackedThroughout my childhood, bunting and a marquee on the village green only meant one thing - school was definitely out for summer. The village fete was always on the first day of the holidays and on the first day of the holidays there was always a fete. Even now it feels very wrong to have been at work for a week when I'd been to said fete the weekend before. I may not go next year for fear of utter disorientation for six weeks.

As a kid, summer holidays were pretty much the stuff of dreams. The vast, six-week expanse of empty time is not only mysterious in its possibilities - maybe this will be the year we make it to the third weir downriver - but is a time for change and transition at the other end. Could be a new school, could just be a new pencil case but, as we get older, each summer punctuates ten and a half months of growing and changing. The summers themselves might change dramatically from year to year - the first one spent with a boy, the first holiday without parents or that one that you and your friends don't talk about. And, with staycations on the up and the British sunshine ever elusive, the books we read over those summers can be as important a part of the ritual as any other.

Diary of a Crush French KissI remember three summers in particular succession that can be tracked by the books I read. The first was 1998 (age twelve); the book was Diary of a Crush: French Kiss by Sarra Manning. This was the first feature-length novel based on the column in the wonderful but now-defunct teen magazine Just Seventeen. I had followed the adventures of student Edie for many months before uncovering this marvel that taught me that, sometimes, boys don't just want to kick footballs at your face (though it would be a few more years before this theory was proved to me first-hand). I thoroughly, emphatically recommend this book (or indeed any by Manning) to any young girl trying to find her feet, and it's a blessing that Manning's fantastically witty column has been preserved with the Diary of a Crush books.

Summer 1999 was the transition summer from middle school to upper school (they still do that where I'm from). It was also the summer, aged thirteen, that I read To Kill A Mockingbird. The previous term on a day's visit to my new school, eager to impress, I told a teacher it was my favourite book, because I'd heard that lots of people had read it. Panic-reading books over the summer holidays was something I would be doing a lot more of during the A-Level and University years, but this first was a very, very happy accident. The book is great for so many reasons but the lesson that my thirteen-year-old self took away was that, sometimes, the grown-up world was a lot more messed up than we cared to believe but that coming to terms with it could be one hell of an adventure.

Girl, InterruptedSo with the millennium came puberty. And with puberty came Susanna Kaysen. Girl, Interrupted was recommended in Just Seventeen (which I was still reading, though by this time it was J-17). A memoir of Kaysen's time spent, aged nineteen, as a patient on a psychiatric ward, this was The Bell Jar for the Dawson's Creek generation. Harrowing to say the least (parents recommend with caution) but with a superbly sharp narrative voice, this book taught me to be angry at the world in the way a fourteen-year-old girl should be. Cool but by no means glorifying in its subject, Kaysen's book is a genuinely great read for anyone going through those difficult years of change but struggling to vocalise them.

So September came again, this time to start my GCSEs. For the next seven years I would, along with thousands of others, be facing stressful exams and big decisions. But the summers of my youth would always stay with me - some spent reading, some spent playing, each one equipping me for the next. My playmates and I looked on unafraid.


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