The Year Without a Summer by Arlene Mark
Coming August 16th, 2022 from SparkPress; 296 pages
Content Warning: PTSD, war, combat, shooting, violence, climate change, natural disasters (volcanos, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires), family trauma, family separation, emotional abuse, academic pressure, immigration, wound description, xenophobia, bullying, death, drugs, opiate addiction.
About the author: “Arlene Mark was born and grew up in steel country in western Pennsylvania before making her way to New York City to begin her career. After working in fashion, she and her husband and three children lived in London, Caracas, and Toronto before settling in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her MA in Special Education, certification in School Psychology, and internship at New York State Psychiatric Institute treating hard-to-reach children empowered her to help them communicate and grow. Her interest in writing this novel stemmed from her belief that children of all ages seek desperately to find their voices. Only then can they feel validated and develop their true potential. Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Spider, the Magazine for Children, Skipping Stones, Adolescence, Their World, and Greenwich Magazine. She authored To the Tower, A Greenwich Adventure and co-authored Paraverbal Communication with Children: Not Through Words Alone. She has been a Contributing Editor to The Greenwich Time, offering articles about children’s emotional lives. Her eight grandchildren are enthusiastic fans.” (Bio taken from book).
Find Arlene Mark on the following platforms:
For Jamie, life is all about fresh snow and beating his best time for speeding down the slopes just like his brother, a deployed soldier in Afghanistan, taught him. That is, until his dad catches wind of his failing science grade and forbids him from competing on his school’s snowboarding team. Jamie’s classmate (and long-time-crush!) Clara couldn’t be more different. Immigrating from Puerto Rico to Albany after Hurricane María’s devastation hasn’t been easy, but leaving her dad behind has to be the hardest. Between her day to day responsibilities, and lengthy academic aspirations, Clara’s plate is full. So, when this unlikely pair must team up for a scientific debate on the 1815 eruption of Tambora, the stakes are high for both of them. A once simple debate turns into much more when the pair reckon with the effects natural disasters have on climate change and further, the spark between them.
In some ways, Arlene Mark’s debut middle grade novel shreds down the slopes, and in others it tentatively glides. Most notably, Mark is unafraid to tackle heavy subject matter across a broad range of topics. Clara’s journey to accept help from others when managing her many responsibilities, and commitments is important representation for eldest children in immigrant families. And, the way Jamie begins to understand the gravity of his brother’s military career gives vital context to the consequences of U.S. nationalism. However, this broad range of topics also functions as the narrative’s biggest detriment. From a craft perspective, the initial super-objective (completing the debate to improve their grades) becomes irrelevant without the introduction of a new objective, which leaves the following portion of the novel straggling behind trying to keep the reader’s attention. Perhaps as a way to compensate for the narrative’s framing, there’s an overwhelming amount of accompanying threads like the romance plot between Clara and Jamie, secondary-character friendship quarrels, and Clara’s babysitting side-gig. These threads fail to contribute in any meaningful or important way to the narrative. In the end, the novel’s commentary on climate change loses impact and the story just… continues. While I may not recommend this title to friends, I do think there’s value to be found in the spirit of collectivism and unity that permeates its story.
The Year Without a Summer releases August 16th, 2022.
(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and SparkPress for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)
PRR Writer & Editor, Megan Milton