A Midsummer's Nightmare
by Kody Keplinger
Released on: June 5th, 2012
Published by: Poppy
Rating: 3 stars
Word rating: Fun but a tad derivative
Reviewed by: Ellis
Whitley Johnson's dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She's just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée's son? Whitley's one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin' great.
Worse, she totally doesn't fit in with her dad's perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn't even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she's ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn't "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn't her stepbrother...at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.
Filled with authenticity and raw emotion, Whitley is Kody Keplinger's most compelling character to date: a cynical Holden Caulfield-esque girl you will wholly care about.
If you liked Carmen's story in the first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, chances are high you're either going to flat-out love A Midsummer's Nightmare, or be a little annoyed with the many similarities. Unfortunately, I fall in the latter camp. I'm always happy to start a new Keplinger book, and this one certainly wasn't an exception, but ultimately, I was very conflicted and even a little pissed off. There's no doubt that A Midsummer's Nightmare is Kody Keplinger's darkest and probably most complex novel to date, something that I actually love, but the speed with which some issues were resolved left a bad taste in my mouth.
As can be expected from a Kody Keplinger novel, a considerable part of the story focuses on female sexuality and how (often shitty) people tend to react to that. Compared to Shut Out and The Duff, Whitley probably has it the hardest out of the three heroines. She has no qualms about casual sex - which, again, I LOVE - as can be witnessed from the fact that this book opens with the morning after. Completely intending to pull the one-night-stand version of dine & ditch, she refuses to leave her phone number, even when Nathan asks her for it. That was a bit of a sad moment for me, personally, because through flashbacks it became clear that Nathan was incredibly considerate and gentle during their hook-up. When he tentatively asked "Is this okay?" I actually awww-ed at the adorableness.
In a very Carmen Lowell-esque move, Whitley's hopes of spending a completely amazing, carefree summer with her father are soon crushed when he suddenly introduces her to his fiancée and her two children, one of whom turns out to be Nathan. To be honest, I thought Whitley's dad was a gigantic asshole. He has no consideration for his daughter whatever, which also shows in the fact that he ignores and avoids her for the rest of the summer. It frustrated me that Whitley just tried to shrug it off. You know that moment when Carmen stands outside of her father's house after she ran away, and she sees her him and his new family having dinner as if nothing out of the ordinary even happened, which makes her so mad that she throws a stone through their window? I wanted something like that to happen.
Instead, she explodes somewhere towards the end - which, j'approve - and then he gives this entire speech about how he didn't know what to do, and somehow that makes it all okay. She forgives him. A similar thing happened with Bianca and her alcoholic dad in The Duff, where one conversation somehow resolves the entire problem, but for some reason, it bothered me even more here. It would almost be better if it turned out her father really didn't give a shit after all, because that little speech about not knowing how to handle it? Yeah, I'm going to call bullshit on that, for the very simple reason that he was there when his fiancée Sylvia went through more or less the same thing with her son. So it's not like he really didn't have a clue how to talk to and spend time with his daughter. It's just that he'd rather avoid the problem in the first place.
The sad thing is, Whitley is genuinely better off with her new family, so it's a shame her asshole dad serves as the connector, because he sure as hell doesn't deserve this amazing family. With the exception of her dad, they all really care for her, want to get to know her, and would happily make her part of the family. And while Whitley initially hates the entire world, which leads to some of the most delightful snarkfests I've ever witnessed, she gradually starts to become attached to these people as well. Seeing her bond with her stepsister Bailey and becoming really protective of her is probably what gave me the most feels, though it definitely has some competition in the wonderful friendship between Whitley and Harrison.
The other moment where this book went wrong for me, though, is with the fall-out after Wesley's party. But first, a quick yay for cameos by my beloved The Duff characters Bianca and Wesley, the former of which is just as grumpy as ever and I love it. Harrison, too, was originally a The Duff character and I love it when cross-overs like this happen. However, a few things happen at and/or after that party. First off, Bailey gets assaulted, and while Whitley steps in and helps her, Nathan blames her for the whole thing. On a certain level, I get this. Whitley promised to keep an eye out for Bailey and shirked that responsibility in favour of finding some manly distraction for herself, but that still doesn't make it okay for Nathan to blame and shame her for the whole thing.
Worse, however, and completely out of character if you ask me, is when Nathan whore-shames and almost victim-blames Whitley when some assholes create a Facebook page dedicated to shaming and ridiculing her. It actually gets worse. As a way to prove she doesn't care about her father neglecting her, random assholes bullying her, and more or less everyone else blaming her anyway, she takes up her hold habit of going out every night and getting super drunk in the process. At one of these parties, a guy tries to rape her, and she ends up blaming herself for it. I know this is a very realistic reaction to have - thanks for nothing fucked up society we live in - but it still broke my heart that she came to that conclusion. It's a result of having so much shit to deal with that she just internalises everything, and I hated that she feels she has so little support.
Nevertheless, A Midsummer's Nightmare is also about Whitley recognising that she has a support system around her. While I had issues with some of Nathan's behaviour, his romance with Whitley is actually pretty sweet, and, occasionally, hot. Harrison was a great potential best friend, and the way he keeps unabashedly flirting with Nathan is equal parts adorable and hilarious. When Sylvia turned out to be the one to stand up for Whitley, my heart nearly burst.
This is the upside of A Midsummer's Nightmare. It can be funny, surprisingly serious, and ultimately heartwarming. There is, however, a certain pattern to Keplinger's writing that bothers me. She's good at exploring deeper-seated issues, but she also tries to solve them within the frame of the current plot, and this generally happens in a very rushed manner. You could argue that Whitley and her dad haven't sorted everything out by the end and that their dynamic is left a bit ambiguous, but I'm over this "one chat and we'll be okay" type of resolution.