Open Road Summer reviewed by Tara

Reagan O’Neill dresses to draw attention to herself but is determined never to let anyone get too close. She has been hurt by too many people – her mother, her father, the mean girls at school and her ex. She protects herself with invisible walls and her devil may care attitude. The only person she allows to get close to her is her best friend Dee. They have been best friends since they were eight, and Dee’s rise to fame hasn’t changed this. The world knows Dee as Lilah Montgomery, a famous country music singer. Just as Dee see the real Reagan, Reagan knows the real Dee. The Dee that is still grieving the breakup with Jimmy, her boyfriend, over a year ago.

Reagan accompanies Dee on her summer tour. They are chaperoned by Dee’s aunty, Peach. Reagan is looking forward to spending the summer with her best friend, but it is also a chance to escape the stress at home and let her heart and her arm recover from the injuries inflicted by her ex.

Things are going well until an old photo of Dee and Jimmy surfaces. Dee is crushed. Reagan is fiercely protective. The record company strategically invite the gorgeous Matt Finch to accompany Dee on tour as her opening act, to refocus the speculation of the press on the relationship between Matt and Dee.

Matt is self-assured and smug. He can’t resist ruffling Reagan’s feathers whenever the chance arises. She can’t help but react. As Reagan gets to know Matt Finch as a person, she is drawn to the depth in him. If she responds she will be exposed and vulnerable, risking further hurt. She will also risk the carefully constructed publicity charade that protect Dee’s image.

Open Road Summer is an interesting exploration of the experiences of a celebrity and the differences between their public persona and their protected personal lives. The use of Reagan as the first-person narrator, enables a comparison of the similarities and differences between her life and the celebrity lives of Dee and Matt. It explores the cost of being a celebrity, the lack of freedom, the invasiveness of public interest, the work behind the scenes and the creation of the public persona. Having grown up with Dee, Reagan is unimpressed by the hype around the celebrities she meets and intently searches for the person beyond the persona.

It also explores the way people use a front to hide their brokenness and vulnerability. Reagan is the obvious example, but Dee still misses Jimmy, and Matt’s mother recently died. Each displays different fronts and coping strategies and face the choice of feeling nothing or feeling everything. Brokenness is not seen as flaw, but as a state of being. The story reveals the value of having friends who accept you for who you are and give you the freedom to be real. There is a beautiful quote where Reagan describes herself as a disaster of a person and Dee’s mother disagrees, describing her as a broken winged bird. She continues, there are two things you can do with broken wings: you can roll over and die, or you can lay low, heal and start fresh.

Although Open Road Summer covers some deep issues, it is well-balanced with humour and light-hearted moments. There are building tensions between Reagan and Matt, and unexpected moments that entice the reader to keep the pages turning. The characters are unique and have great energy. It is an engaging story that leaves a good aftertaste.

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