How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles (2006), although very different than her fantastic Perfect Chemistry, doesn't disappoint.

Sixteen-year-old Amy Nelson is forced to leave Chicago for the summer to head to Israel with the father she refers to as "Sperm Donor" to meet her grandma and other paternal relatives for the very first time. And, yes, her existence is also very much a surprise to them.

Throw in the culture shock of being the American city girl, one who isn't even Jewish, learning about sheep, dealing with cousin rivalry, and meeting what has to be one of my favorite teen romance guys, Avi.

My one major complaint is a scene where Avi takes Amy to meet his Palestinian friend. Felt a little bit like a play on the old "some of my best friends are [fill in the blank]." "Well, the two of us are such close friends, so that means I can't be anti-Palestinian/he can't be anti-Semitic." Sort of a glossing over of the very real challenges in Israel, including even the existence of settlements like the one where Amy's family lives in the Golan Heights.

There aren't any easy answers in Israel, and I wish Elkeles had brought that forward in a more multi-dimensional way, attempting to really represent and address Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Otherwise, though, Amy is fun and engaging--if a bit shallow and, frankly, lazy (which doesn't play well on a kibbutz of all places), and watching her grow and change is wonderful. Best of all--her developing relationship with her father.

I already have the second and third books in the series in my TBR pile, so more soon about Amy.

My overall personal rating of How to Ruin a Summer Vacation is a B.


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