In the summer of 1983, lonely teenager Helen meets the Dovers, a quirky and sometimes dysfunctional family who move into a house on the bank of the canal near where Helen lives. As Helen becomes drawn into the Dovers’ world, attempting to fill the emotional gaps left by her parents’ split, her life changes forever.
Helen lives with her father, Mick, a reclusive drinker devastated by the loss of his wife. When the Dovers move into a nearby cottage, she is instantly captivated by their seemingly eccentric lifestyle. Young twins Pippa and Will run free without any discipline, teenager Victoria does as she pleases and mother Alice spends much of her time wrapped in her own world. The only authority in the family comes from older brother Seth and part-time uncle Piet. Spending the summer by the canal with her new friends, Helen feels that she has found her niche, never daring to imagine that her life might go back to the way it was before. It won’t, but not all change is good as we find out when we meet Helen thirty years later, the impact of that summer on the now reclusive and vulnerable adult clear.
Much as Helen’s world with the Dovers seems idyllic at first, Sarah Jasmon does an excellent job of making the reader feel uneasy from the off, of hinting at what is to come and of making us feel that all will not end well. As indeed it doesn’t. How exactly, we don’t find out until the end of the book. Along with the reader, even Helen is in the dark about what exactly happened during that summer, her memories as an adult unclear and playing tricks on her. It takes another meeting with the now successful photographer Victoria to reveal all.
The Summer of Secrets is highly atmospheric, Jasmon successfully making the reader feel the intense heat of Helen’s summer with the Dovers and her own experience of living on a canal boat making the novel’s setting highly authentic. The slow-burning plot in this book is like a ticking time bomb, the summer’s events being revealed bit by bit, both to the adult Helen and to us. And, when we find out what happened, we can clearly see why Helen is as she is, the secrets of the books title ones that will possibly stay with her forever.
The Summer of Secrets is available now. To find out more about Sarah Jasmon, visit her website.