Review: Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker

Review: Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker

“I know what I like,” I say. “It’s a certain type of music and I’m just not into stuff like bluegrass and banjos.”

“Music is music, Priscilla,” says Russ. “If you love music, you give it all a listen. You see what there is to learn in every song you hear. You take chances on shows. That’s part of it.”

LOvestruck Summer

LOvestruck Summer

I’ve been just dying for a great summer-themed read, so a couple of weeks ago I blew though five or six books I hoped would fit the bill. Among those books was Melissa Walker’s 2009 novel, Lovestruck Summer, which was exactly what I was hoping to find and earned itself a spot as a summer read I’ll definitely revisit. 

Don’t let the cutesy cover fool you. Lovestruck Summer has quite a bit of meat to it with excellent, believable character development—as well as some very smart humor—and most definitely fits into the spectrum of older-YA/”new adult” that’s becoming so popular right now.

Quinn (who’s real name is Priscilla, but no one had better call her that) has just graduated from high school in North Carolina when, on a whim, she calls her favorite record label at 3:00 a.m and asks for a summer internship. To her surprise, the label agrees, which means she’ll be spending the summer in America’s live music capital, Austin, Texas. 

Quinn finds herself living with her super sorority girl cousin, Penny, a UT student who has a bedroom and wardrobe for her dog, and whose next-door neighbors include Russ, a 21 year-old cowboy/frat boy combo (think Matt Saracen if he drove Tim Riggins’ truck) who loves country music and annoys the hell out of Quinn. She often “escapes under her headphones” because these people are so different, and Quinn doesn’t know how to cope with the Bachelor marathons and pop-country that are the soundtrack of her cousin’s apartment.

I tug on Penny’s arm. “I hate country music,” I whisper through clenched teeth.

“What?” she asks, clapping her hands to the beat and hardly turning around. “I hate country music!” I shout, way too loudly. The back half of the restaurant turns to scowl at me.

Her internship doesn’t pan out quite like she’d planned, since it’s only one day a week, and as a result Quinn has more time on her hands than expected, and finds herself exploring Austin with Russ the cowboy/frat boy. She also befriends another intern at the record label, Jade (who has so issues of her own), and a hipster boy, Sebastian, who loves the exact same indie rock music that is so important to Quinn.

Sebastian is exactly the sort of summer fling Quinn hoped for: he’s a DJ, he’s a music snob, he’s “cool” on paper, he exactly fits Quinn’s aspirational description of her ideal summer fling. 

Except Russ, not Sebastian, is the one who pushes Quinn out of her comfort zone, the one who helps her buy a beater to get around Austin, the one who takes her swimming at Barton Springs. He encourages her to not make assumptions about people based on the labels she assigns them, exposes her to country music and helps her see beyond the surface of herself and others.

“For a smart girl, you sure say a lot of idiotic things,” says Russ.

“What did you say to me?” I ask.

“It’s true,” he says. “Who cares about Penny’s ringtone? If she likes the music, she likes the music. You don’t own it. You can’t tell people what to like—you can’t control who likes the bands you like.” He shakes his head. “Are you gonna go to college with that small-minded attitude?”

The tension between these two absolutely charmed me throughout Lovestruck Summer. 

The last song the band plays is “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” UB40 did a cover of it in the nineties, but I know it’s originally an Elvis song. When Russ leans over to give me another history lesson, I turn to face him. “This one I know,” I say.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he says. “And as a reward for having such in-depth musical knowledge of a song that everyone in the world should be familiar with…may I have this dance?”

“Hmm, let me think. Insulting me and then asking me to dance…” I say, narrowing my eyes at his smug face. “No.” I turn my back to him.

He taps my shoulder. “Pretty please, Priscilla?” he asks, holding out his arms.

“No way,” I say.

“Quinn?” he asks. Against my better judgment, I turn to him. The smugness is gone, and he has a look of sincere hope. I feel my heart melt a tiny bit.

“Oh, fine,” I say. When I give in, Russ instantly envelops me with his arms, which feel even stronger than they look. He actually knows how to dance—it’s like we’re doing some ballroom steps or something, and the way he puts pressure on my back helps me know where to move and how to stay in step with him. I feel like we’re gliding.

“You’re good,” I say, looking up at him.

“When I’m dancing with the right person,” he says, smiling back. I blush. I actually blush.

Despite Russ’ (obvious) charm, Quinn doesn’t magically grow up and realize that she should see people for who they are not how they appear.

She pursues a her Sebastian summer fling and keeps judging her cousin and her cousin’s sorority girl friends, in typical 18-year old fashion. I love that she’s a smart girl who still is kind of clueless in a way that I found extremely relatable—hell, that’s something most people do when they’re far older than eighteen. She puts on a facade of who she wants everyone to think she is, creating a barricade between herself and her new friends. 

While theme of letting the world see the real you isn’t anything groundbreaking in contemporary YA, Melissa Walker executed it better than I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s never lesson-y, never lecture-y, it’s a natural, slow evolution that comes from Quinn being on her own for the first time and spending time with people who aren’t just like she is. 

“I mean, I like it when people are like me. And when they understand the music that I like, it feels like they understand a big part of who I am.”

“Who you are or who you want the world to think you are?” asks Penny.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask.

“You’ve got your rock-short haircut, your indie internship, your DJ boyfriend,” she says. “Does it all feel right?”

“Yeah,” I say slowly. “It does.” But as I hear myself talking, I realize that music taste is a flimsy reason to date someone.

“Are you so smitten with the DJ that you haven’t noticed anyone else?” asks Penny.

Another notable element of Lovestruck Summer is that it is just plain funny.

Not five seconds later, Penny’s at my side. “What was that about?” she asks, swirling the ice in her drink around with a tiny straw.

“He was being a jerk,” I say.

“I’m glad you noticed,” she says. “I thought you might be completely blinded by his metro-sexual haircut.”

I was lamenting recently that there aren’t enough rom-coms in the book world. And then Lovestruck Summer magically appeared on my Kindle (someone keeps pushing that “Buy with 1-Click” button), and was exactly what I’d wanted: witty dialog, charmingly funny situations, the whole thing. I found myself giggling out loud as a read Lovestruck Summer straight through on a too-hot summer evening. Can we have more of this, please? 

Wow. I guess my cousin is like the Ernest Hemingway of retelling other people’s drama, because she knows where to start and finish, summing up my evening in three concise sentences.

And did I mention that there’s a Friday Night Lights reference? 

I know that Melissa Walker’s an FNL fan, so if we had a star system on CEFS, I would totally award a full bonus star based on these two things alone.

“Yeah,” he says. “I just sometimes get weird around jock types. High school memories and all. The kid with the turntables wasn’t really cool in my Friday Night Lights small town.”

I could go on and on about the awesomeness of Lovestruck Summer, because it’s a book that really worked for me when I was seeking something very specific—and I swear, I have half of this book higlighted in my ereader. It’s simply got an endearing balance of smarts, humor and romance that works on a number of levels. Austin comes alive as nearly a character in and of itself, and the music-filled, hot and humid Texas nights add so much to an already-strong story. (Hello! Why haven’t I ever visited Austin? I know so many people there and I’ve been to every other city in Texas. *sigh*) The characters and setting melded wonderfully, making me so nostaligic for those first summers on my own. 

“You look beautiful,” says Russ. And it’s this simple sentence that you think will mean nothing, because maybe your mom has said it to you a thousand times, or your best friend says it when you’re having an insecure moment about your outfit. But it’s not like that—it’s completely different when a guy says it. I didn’t know that until this moment, because it’s the first time a guy has ever said it to me. Three words just gave me goose bumps, and I feel like a girly girl for a second.

Lovestruck Summer seems to be a bit of a sleeper, and I imagine that a lot of folks who would normally love this book, with its older teen main character and lots of talk of music and a relatable exploration of self-identity, maybe skipped it because of the cutesy cover and generic-sounding jacket blurb. However, if you look beyond that, you’ll probably be as happy as I was to find that Lovestruck Summer is a memorable, charming book that fits into that rare category of perfect summer reads. 

{Buy Lovestruck Summer (less than $6) Amazon | Kindle | BN | Book Depo | iBooks

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FNL Character Rating: Crucifictorious. Just because I love the idea of Quinn being forced to listen to Landry’s band.

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