Casual homophobia, bullying, ignoring boundaries in a casual setting, lack of consent in a casual setting, underage drinking.
– The colour palette on the cover is SO GOOD
– The telling off near the end is decent
– Age difference is discomforting
– Power imbalance is discomforting
– Plotting somehow manages to be both messy and simplistic
– Bratty characters
– Set-up requires some serious mental gymnastics
Night Owls and Summer Skies has an okay concept but suffers from bad characters, plotting, prose—bad everything.
As per her custody agreement, Emma must spend summers with her estranged mother. Emma’s mother is self-involved, flaky and distracted, so Emma doesn’t plan for a good time. Things take a turn for the worse when five seconds after arriving, her mother ditches her at Camp Mapplewood (yes really) to go on a cruise—the same camp which left her with PTSD. (Yes really.) Emma devises plan after plan to get kicked out of camp, but gorgeous camp counselor Vivian keeps forgiving Emma and hiding her messes.
First: the goddamn mental gymnastics necessary to accept the set-up. Emma’s PTSD is from… being stuck in a tree for a night? That’s the root of her trauma and a part of her depression? Really? In nearly eighteen years, the worst things to happen to Emma are a divorce and being stuck in a tree? Okay, sure, whatever. What’s difficult to wrap my head around is that Emma detests Camp Mapplewood so much but goes through such a roundabout way of leaving through being kicked out. She can call her dad at any time: not only does she steal her cell phone back, but the people running the camp are stupidly, ridiculously, unrealistically nice. All she would have to say is, “Sir, my father won’t know where I am if anything happens, could you call this number and update him?” But she doesn’t, because she doesn’t want to “bug” her equally stupidly, ridiculously, unrealistically nice dad. Which is such a feeble excuse, I mean, what did Emma think would happen once she got kicked out and her mother—now on the other side of the world—can’t pick her up? They’ll call the next available legal guardian.
When I read the blurb about a camper falling for a counselor, I guess I assumed the best. As in, maybe Vivian was seventeen and a new counsellor and Emma was sixteen and old for a camper. Not Vivian as a whole ass adult. The situation is super sketchy. Not only is Vivian “in charge” of Emma, but often manipulates things behind her back to keep her at camp.
Most of the book was empty fluff. Lots of hanging out, Emma and other characters having flat or forced interactions, or romantic scenes with a lot of telling over showing—Emma and Vivian felt forced.
There were also some odd discrepancies—Camp Mapplewood was both a great camp people wanted to be at and desperately trying to stay afloat.
One part I did enjoy was near the ending, when Emma finally tells her mom off. That was almost enjoyable.
I think the characters were the worst part of the book, since Night Owls and Summer Skies might’ve stood a chance if Sullivan sold us on Emma’s mom. Or if any characters had a personality besides “bratty.” Or if, you know, Emma was believable as a human being.
Emma was unlikeable. Her constant whining or complaining eroded any sympathy for her early on and the fact that her apparent trauma was so comparatively silly to some things other YA protagonists have gone through. She might have worked out if Sullivan had toned down her brattiness and worked on making her emotional troubles seem more believable, but alas, that is not the case.
Vivian was rude, cruel, grounded—and definitely more mature than Emma, in a way. I mean, no one in Night Owls and Summer Skies was actually mature in a human way, but compared to Emma and the other kids in the Beaver cabin who often sounded like tweens when they bickered, there was a noticeable difference. Honestly, the thing I don’t understand about Vivian is how she fell for Emma. Setting aside the short timeframe and the fact that Emma is a miserable brat most of the time—how do you go into a job where you’re in the mindset that you’re an authority figure to these kids and manage to romance one of them? How are you looking at a sweaty, social inept minor and thinking about dating her? How can you fail to go less than six weeks without falling in love with a seventeen-year-old?
Also, the fact that no one was like, “Hey, that’s weird. Maybe stop?”
Most of the other characters were one-note and cringey: either bratty, forcedly quirky, or unrealistically good-natured. No one was believable, likeable or interesting. There was a lot of silly “lol random” sort of behaviour and I found myself setting the book down and walking away every five minutes, unable to tolerate the nonsense.
Night Owls and Summer Skies is written in first person, past tense from Emma’s point of view.
Sullivan’s writing style is sloppy, chaotic and dull. She struggles to set a tone, struggles to convey emotions or emotional scenes effectively, struggles to tell the story in anything approaching a competent way. Night Owls and Summer Skies reads like Sullivan haphazardly banged it out and then never glanced at it again.
Themes and Representation—★★☆☆☆
Things that are cool: a pansexual character; Emma working through her trauma; Emma finding something she loves.
Things that aren’t cool: the pansexual character falling in love with a minor; Emma working through her trauma through a combination of a girlfriend and being forced into a traumatic situation again; “I don’t like the word lesbian.” Honestly, common sense says this would hurt Emma more than help her.
People who want that summer camp romance so badly they’ll overlook a lot of bad writing and questionable elements.