All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

on February 22, 2016

Summer SkinSummer Skin
Kirsty Eagar
Allen & Unwin
2016, 347
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.

The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls.

The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess.

A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable?

It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.

A searingly honest and achingly funny story about love and sex amid the hotbed of university colleges by the award-winning author of Raw Blue.

I was so keen to read this book that I took no chances and made sure I ordered it in directly to the local bookstore in my town because their selection is difficult to predict and you can’t rely on them having anything that you’re wanting, especially in the week of release. When it arrived I was deep into the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante so they were always going to be a hard act to follow. This book however? Is more than up to the task.

This book is my university experience. I lived in residential halls for two years and so much of this book is those years. It took me straight back there, from the O-week celebrations/rushing to the pranks played on one residential house by another. The dorms at my old uni weren’t segregated so there were no male only ones but apart from that, everything was there. Right down to the rugby union playing misogynistic bullshit. In fact, this book brought to mind something I’d long forgotten, a memory from my first year. I lived in a 3 story dorm, 16 rooms on each floor which was set apart from the other dorms by a piece of land roughly the size of a football field. We were isolated by geography and also, because it was the most expensive dorm. “A-Block C***s” was the preferred usage describing us by those in other dorms. Anyway, despite this university being on the outskirts of Sydney, a lot of my fellow residents lived in various other parts of Sydney and often went home on weekends. I lived 2 train rides and 8hrs travel time away so I did not. One weekend, I was alone on my floor save one foreign student who never came out of her room. A friend from another dorm came over to see me and we had dinner together and were hanging out chatting when some drunk Ag-majors from another block stumbled in. They made nuisances of themselves and then one took off, looking for someone on another floor. The remaining guy was a notorious mess, and he sat there, in silence for several moments before looking at me.

“You know,” he slurred thoughtfully. “You’re alone on this floor this weekend. I could come back and rape you and no one would ever know.”

By now, it was late and my friend had wanted to return home to her own dorm. But she didn’t, she stayed with me until the guy stumbled off and disappeared (he was later found in a bathroom on bottom floor in a pile of his own vomit and something else even grosser than that). I was forever grateful to her for sticking around and unsurprisingly, he was kicked out of dorms at the end of our first year because that was by no means an isolated incident.

But it wasn’t all drunken threats of rape and avoiding rugby players with popped collars, jeans with giant belt buckles and RM Williams. It was two incredibly fun years and Summer Skin is brilliant at catching that too. Living in residential colleges is a hard experience to reproduce but you form a different sort of friendship with your dorm mates than you would as a day student. You’re living together, breathing in pretty much every facet of each other’s life and it becomes a very tight bond. The good thing about living in that sort of environment is that there’s always someone to talk to, or go do something with, whether it be going to the bar or to the shops or even just for a walk. The bad thing can often be that it’s very hard to find time to be alone – even locking yourself in your room isn’t enough when drunk people know you’re in there.

The book opens with Jess sneaking into the notorious Knights College, an all-male residential hall which is set apart from Jess’s more casual/eclectic Unity in many ways. Knights College has pretentious little gold plaques that announce each wing as you enter it. Unity has blocks. Last year the residents of Knights College played a terribly cruel and disgusting trick on one of Jess’ friends and this year, her and a couple of others are out for revenge. I have to admit their revenge ideas are pretty damn clever – they definitely beat the pranks of the residential halls at my old uni!

Jess and a Knights boy she nicknames Blondie cross paths and Jess smells victory and revenge all at once. It’s complicated by the fact that Blondie, despite being a typically arrogant Knight keeps showing flashes of depth and humanity as well as something quite damaged. Theirs is truly a push-pull interaction with witty banter that is interspersed with moments that truly tap into something more, and on more than one occasion, hit a nerve. I loved their every moment together, even when it was painful and heartbreaking. Blondie is deeply flawed, master of a cutting remark but at the same time he’s also quite intensely vulnerable. This is a romance with a very rocky path – both of them make a lot of very realistic mistakes and are carrying a bit of baggage that’s not just about a Unity girl and a Knights boy.

The Australian culture is so strong in this novel, from the music references to the slang and way of speaking. When I first read this section, I couldn’t stop laughing:

At that moment, a stocky guy with curly hair and a blue face blocked Blondie’s path, addressing him as ‘Killer’ and telling him it was the Paddington Tavern for afters, acting like he couldn’t see Jess, tucked under Blondie’s arm. And Blondie played right along: widening his stance as if experiencing a sudden and significant surge in ball size, speaking in the drawl used by guys who are fluent in Brah.

“Yeah, right, the Paddo. Not going to make it, hey.”

But even though it’s amusing (because that is a thing that guys do and a way in which they speak) it also highlights the differences in the hook up culture for men and women. Men like Blondie are celebrated for picking up a girl and heading out of a function with rawkus ribbing and elbowing and side-eyeing and a lot of sniggering and “roger that”. Rarely are women applauded for such things, instead they become ‘that’ girl. The one who slept with the football player or the third year or the RA or whatever defines the male – slut shaming is rife and there’s a belief that women don’t seem to have the same needs and desires – or if they do, they should never voice them! Jess makes an absolutely amazing speech in this book about sexual desire and what she feels and wants sometimes and it’s just incredible! Utterly refuting the belief that sexual needs and desire are a man’s domain and that sometimes, she just wants as well. Her forthrightness and bluntness help evolve Blondie from well, a bit of a dick who doesn’t ‘do’ relationships and seems to view women as merely vessels with holes for brief moments of pleasure, into a still-flawed person, but one that recognises the human-ness of Jess, the fact that she can be and is more than that. In getting to know Jess, (sometimes reluctantly) sharing pieces of himself with her, he begins to connect on a more-than-physical level and it’s delicious (although the physical stuff is pretty hot, too). He doesn’t change overnight though – he still does and says thoughtless and hurtful things and you get the feeling he probably will in the future too. This is no instalove, it’s something that they both need to work at, trying and trying again after each time something fails/goes wrong.

I could probably keep talking about this book forever but I’ve just noticed how long this review has become, thanks to my ridiculously long university anecdote! Another 1500 words probably wouldn’t give me enough time to address the topics and issues running throughout this book. Summer Skin is raw, engrossing, funny, sexy, confronting and thoughtful all at once and I freaking loved it. It and Raw Blue are two of the best older YA books I’ve ever read and I will be happy to shove copies of both into everyone’s hands. And now I will sit and wait patiently for Kirsty Eager’s next novel.


Book #25 of 2016


Summer Skin is the 12th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016




2 responses to “Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

  1. […] Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar. Aussie YA perfection. This book was the bomb. There aren’t enough books depicting those university years with time in residential colleges. This book brought back so much of my own experience, well over a decade ago now. […]

  2. […] Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar. Allen & Unwin. My review. […]

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