I used to spend a month every summer visiting my dad in a household that was absolutely free-range. It was the late 1970s and early 1980s so that wasn’t that unusual, but it was certainly a more unsupervised and fend-for-yourself-until-dinner situation than I experienced with my mother. I have very distinct memories from that time, hanging out across the street with a neighborhood girl my age. Both of her parents worked so we would spend all day in the air conditioning watching MTV, drinking (sometimes spiked) instant iced tea, and trying to keep her younger sister out of our business. This book, although set more than a decade after that time in my life, brought all of those memories roaring back.
Zeke and Frankie are two teenagers that have trouble making friends. Frankie is left alone for the majority of the summer while her mother and older brothers work during the day. Zeke is left, in the wake of his father’s affair, living with his devastated mother at his grandmother’s house in a town that isn’t his own. After they meet at the neighborhood pool, they begin a relationship that fills in the gaps. What begins as a pantomime of what they think a romantic relationship should be soon turns into a blending of their artistic outlets: her writing and his art. The product is a flyer that can be interpreted as meaning many different things. Like little rebellious upstarts, they copy and plaster the flyer throughout their town. A small town where not much is going on but summer heat and boredom pays attention to something new. Their small act of defiance quickly becomes out of their control.
It’s an interesting look at something going “viral” before the internet could disperse all kinds of gossip, misinformation, and conspiracy theories to everyone everywhere in record time. Like a game of telephone where the story gets so distorted by the end, Zeke and Frankie’s poster becomes propaganda, the literal poster child of recruitment for devil worship, and pedophilia. Whatever a misguided or bored imagination can conjure up as a tool to wield against whatever they think is wrong with the world.
Wilson perfectly conjures those teenage summers of the 80s and 90s. He remembers how desperate you could feel for connection. How monumental it was to find someone who you think understood you during a time in your life when you were struggling to understand yourself.