Since I don't review Young Adult fiction for Meridian, but I like this particular YA novel, I'm going to say a few things about Summer in Paris here. Michele Ashman Bell is a much-loved author of several types of books including romance, middle reader mysteries, Christmas stories, and now a young adult novel that touches on several YA themes. There's a mystery involved, there's romance, there are value deciscions, and there's a strong coming of age factor.
A summer in Paris sounds like a young girl's dream. There are a couple of major problems involved though. Kenzie is being sent to her aunt and uncle's farm in Paris, Idaho---not Paris, France. Her father has lost everything in a bad business deal and her parents are estranged from each other. In addition Kenzie's boyfriend and best friend are showing too much interest in each other and with Kenzie out of the way . . . Then there's her dream of becoming a professional dancer and there certainly aren't any world class ballet schools in Paris, Idaho. She arrives at the Salt Lake International Airport and is met by a cousin who is rude, dresses badly, drives too fast, and is a little short in the common sense department. His friends are worse. Her aunt is kind but expects her to complete a long list of chores each day. One person captures her interest, but he's the one person she's warned to stay away from and the prime suspect in a series of arson fires being set in the small community.
As I've thought about this novel, I wondered just what it is about the story that made me like it. Admittedly the author is a dear friend and I've enjoyed her other books, but there is something more. I liked the emphasis on family helping family and a recognition of the importance of family relationships. I liked the awareness that many people struggle with in discovering their own individual paths in life. Michele handled well in a nonjudgemental way the tendency of people (not just teenagers) to cave in to peer pressure even when it goes against the true wishes or values of an individual. I didn't like the nonchalant attitude toward stealing gas, vandalism, and reckless behavior exhibited by Kenzie's cousin and his friends which I feel should have been dealt with in a stronger way. Having grown up in small rural Idaho towns myself, I found some of the negative behavior and attitudes realistic, but I would have liked to see more of the stronger, better-equipped-for-life young people too.
The mystery was fun, but I guessed the villian wrong. The romance didn't dominate the story. Overall it was a fun read and I encourage others to try it. My copy isn't available for contest winners; I plan to pass it on to my daughter who reviews Young Adult novels for the City Library.