Title: Last of the Summer Tomatoes
Author: Sherrie Henry
Cover artist: Aaron Anderson
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Amazon buy link: Buy Link Last of the Summer Tomatoes
Genre: Contemporary young adult
Length: 246 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest review by Orion
Review summary: A fine, if occasionally predictable, coming of age tale.
Kyle Jackowski, typical sullen emo teen, struggles to find a way to deal with his sexuality and finds himself in trouble with the law… again. But instead of being sent to a juvenile detention center like he expected, he is given a chance to commute his sentence by working on a farm for the summer.
Enter Sam, son of the farm owners, who shows Kyle what he feels is perfectly normal and that he doesn’t have to hide from his feelings. In turn, Sam’s parents show Kyle that his abusive stepfather and battered mother are not the norm. With their love and support, Kyle finds his place in the world—by Sam’s side.
Sherrie Henry’s Last of the Summer Tomatoes explores themes that have become very familiar in young adult books about gay kids. Kyle Jackowski struggles with his same-sex feelings, and he also lives in an abusive relationship with his stepfather, and with his mother who does little to protect him. His emotional problems get him into trouble with the law, but rather than taking him even further down the wrong road, his brush with the juvenile justice system is the catalyst that starts him on the journey to self-discovery and acceptance.
There is nothing wrong with an author taking on familiar themes as long as he or she does something fresh with them. We don’t really get that in this book. It presents its messages about redemption, overcoming adversity, and accepting one’s true self in routine fashion. There were points in the story where I could see certain developments coming a mile away. At the same time, there is repeated mention of a certain character that led me to believe she would become a pivotal factor in the story at some point, but that never materializes. Some of the characterizations weren’t done as well as they could have been. In particular, the brutal stepfather, Hank, was painted with one big, broad brush dipped in nothing but evil. Sam is a teenager but doesn’t always behave like one, occasionally giving the impression of being a much older person. Kyle comes across as just a bit too naïve to be quite believable, and the whole bit about his getting drawn into a crime doesn’t seem to fit his character. Also, some of the dialogue fell flat for me in that it didn’t seem quite authentic.
Okay, now that I’ve pointed out the things that didn’t work for me, let me point out the many things that did. First, I like Ms. Henry’s writing style. It has an easy, almost rhythmic cadence that sort of pulled me along. While Kyle may have been saddled with an overblown naiveté, he is otherwise a well-drawn, sympathetic character whom the reader will naturally root for. His romance with Sam is beautifully depicted, almost like the proverbial fairy tale. No, it’s not done in that saccharine way that makes you want to stick a finger down the back of your throat. It engages your emotions and tugs at your heart and makes you root for that happy ending for these two young lovers, the way a good romance should. As a side note, there is no graphic sex here. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for you, consider yourself informed. For me, it was one way in which Ms. Henry happily distinguishes herself, by not falling into the trend of filling young adult novels with sex, sex, and more sex. She capably demonstrates that a writer can explore the reality of teen sex without delving into pornographic detail.
Other things that work extremely well here are the title and the cover. The title does all the things a good title should; it intrigues the reader and sets the tone for the story. And the cover beautifully depicts the story’s setting. Without even reading the blurb, the title and the cover made me want to read this book. And I am happy that I did. I enjoyed this book and am glad to recommend it. Ms. Henry is a fine writer, and I look forward to more of her work.