From the Back Cover:
The acclaimed author of Letters from Skye returns with an extraordinary story of a friendship born of proximity but boundless in the face of separation and war.
Luc Crépet is accustomed to his mother’s bringing wounded creatures to their idyllic château in the French countryside, where healing comes naturally amid the lush wildflowers and crumbling stone walls. Yet his maman’s newest project is the most surprising: a fifteen-year-old Scottish girl grieving over her parents’ fate. A curious child with an artistic soul, Clare Ross finds solace in her connection to Luc, and she in turn inspires him in ways he never thought possible. Then, just as suddenly as Clare arrives, she is gone, whisked away by her grandfather to the farthest reaches of the globe. Devastated by her departure, Luc begins to write letters to Clare—and, even as she moves from Portugal to Africa and beyond, the memory of the summer they shared keeps her grounded.
Years later, in the wake of World War I, Clare, now an artist, returns to France to help create facial prostheses for wounded soldiers. One of the wary veterans who comes to the studio seems familiar, and as his mask takes shape beneath her fingers, she recognizes Luc. But is this soldier, made bitter by battle and betrayal, the same boy who once wrote her wistful letters from Paris? After war and so many years apart, can Clare and Luc recapture how they felt at the edge of that long-ago summer?
Bringing to life two unforgettable characters and the rich historical period they inhabit, Jessica Brockmole shows how love and forgiveness can redeem us.
I read Jessica Brockmole's contribution to the anthology Fall of Poppies earlier this year, and her story, "Something Worth Landing For," was one of my favorites. Another story in the collection introduced me to Anna Coleman Ladd and her Paris studio for disfigured soldiers, so when I saw Jessica's new book featured the studio, I wanted to read it even more.
The story begins in 1911 when fifteen-year-old Clare Ross is whisked away to a crumbling French chateau after the death of her father. The Crepets and the Rosses are longtime friends, though as Clare will learn, that relationship has not been without its troubles, and most of them are due to her mother, who abandoned Clare and her father years earlier. Feeling lost and unloved, and assaulted by the colors and lifestyle so different than Scotland, she wonders if she'll ever find a place where she belongs. But things start looking up when the Crepets' son, Luc, comes home from school. The two form a fast friendship and spend a summer exploring the countryside around them, exploring their artistic abilities--since both come from a family of artists, this comes naturally--and exploring the uncharted waters of first love. But their idyllic summer cannot last as outside influences encroach, and eventually Clare's globe-trotting grandfather arrives to take charge of his ward, and she leaves France, and Luc, behind.
For a few years, they keep in touch via letters. They each have vastly different experiences, but the one constant is that they can always turn to each other for comfort and understanding. Clare has a more unconventional upbringing, discovering who she is in one exotic location after another with a maturity and gravity born from her reserved childhood and her fear of becoming like her mother. Luc puts his hopes and dreams on hold as war breaks out and he trades his studies for training, becoming a reluctant soldier forced to cope with the realities of killing and surviving in battle and beyond. When Clare's letters stop coming, Luc realizes that he cannot rely on anyone but himself in the mess of what his life has become. After suffering a devastating facial injury, the Luc that returns to Paris is unrecognizable both physically and in spirit.
Meanwhile, Clare has not been unaffected by the war. While in art school in Glasgow, she sees what's left of the soldiers who return home, and she begins to earn some acclaim with her drawings of these men, trying to impart some sense of what they've been through and what the future still holds for them through her art. When she receives an offer to assist other artists in Paris in designing masks for soldiers with facial deformities, she discovers a whole new level of the power of art to transform, heal, and inspire. Though Luc and Clare have been worlds away and have lost touch with each other, they are never far from each other's thoughts, and whether the events that bring them back together are coincidence or destiny, Clare re-enters his life at the moment he least wants to see her--but also at the moment when he needs her the most.
The writing in this book is simply stunning. I earmarked at least a dozen passages that struck me as being brilliant. The emotions of these characters leap off the page and become one with the reader's. I fell in love with both of them and their summer together. The descriptions are by turns lush and stark, reflecting the subject matter, yet always bringing it to life perfectly. The only reason this book did not end up being a 5-star read for me is that I felt like the story lost some of what made it so amazing on the way to its conclusion. I can't quite put my finger on why the latter portion of the book did not feel as poignant, but it may have something to do with the fact that it doesn't receive as much attention as everything that came before it. There's a bit of an imbalance between how much time is spent on their summer together and the war years and on their reunion. And I think anytime you separate your characters for a span as long as eight years, you have a little bit more work cut out for you in re-establishing the magic of their connection. The ending of this book tries to cram resolving personal issues for both leads with the resolution of their relationship at the same time and in only a handful of pages. The ending is still satisfying, but it could have been so much more. This book is on the shorter side for historical fiction, coming in at under 350 pages, and I think perhaps a bit more exploration of them coming back together as adults may have given the ending more substance and resonance.
But overall, At the Edge of Summer is a gorgeous book, beautifully written, profoundly observant of human nature and our ties to each other, and I highly recommend this for all fans of romantic historical fiction.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.