That Summer Thing is the second of five books in the “Riverbend” series. It’s difficult to actively seek other books within a series when you’ve already been disappointed by one book. That Summer Thing is most definitely a disappointment.
Charlie Callahan has lived in Riverbend all of his life. He was one of the original River Rats, a group of local kids who "used to hang out down by the Sycamore River," which included his best friend Ed Pennington. Ed has remained a good friend, despite Charlie’s brief and disastrous marriage to Ed’s sister, Beth, 15 years before.
Growing up, Charlie and Beth had been very good friends, mostly due to Charlie’s friendship with Ed. Charlie was 18 and Beth 16 when those feelings of friendship turned to young love and they began dating. Their lives were forever altered the night Charlie escorted Beth to a school dance, and afterwards went to a houseboat owned by Riverbend’s favorite patriarch, Abraham Steele, for a private celebration. Beth ended up pregnant and Charlie married her immediately afterward. However, when Beth miscarried the baby six weeks later, their grief overwhelmed them and they divorced. Beth immediately left for college and has only returned to Riverbend for brief visits with her brother and his family in the last 15 years.
So when Abraham Steele’s will bequeaths his houseboat to both of them, no one is more surprised than Charlie and Beth. How could Abraham have known what a special place the houseboat was for them? When Beth shows up for a visit with Ed and his family, she coincidentally finds herself forced to temporarily live on the houseboat until other guests leave Ed’s home. Charlie will be gone for several days on business. Beth decides there’s no problem, even though she’s always been afraid of the river currents, since the boat is tied to the dock.
Beth awakens the next morning to find that the boat is floating down the river, because Charlie has returned to take Nathan, his troubled little brother (from the Big Brothers volunteer program) of four years, out on the river for a weekend fishing expedition. Beth makes her presence known, and she and Charlie see each other for the first time in 15 years. When they are forced to spend the weekend on the river, it’s the opening both of them need to release resentment and anger about their past, and remember why they fell in love.
That Summer Thing left me with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. The story is entirely predictable from beginning to end; the author didn’t even attempt to add any twists or deviate from the standard childhood-misunderstanding plot. Though I was able to read this book in a fairly short amount of time, it was more out of a desire to finish it than because it’s a fast read. There was very little originality.
The one exception to this, however, is Nathan. I liked the idea that a child outside of their circle of family and friends was responsible for ultimately reuniting Charlie and Beth. But this one character is not enough to redeem the book’s many other flaws.
As a couple, I liked Charlie and Beth, but thought it took too long for them to reunite. Many of their misunderstandings could have been resolved 15 years before and also before the end of the book. I didn’t mind their somewhat old fashioned relationship, which was too little too late in my mind, but would have enjoyed it more if there weren’t new assumptions and misunderstandings added on top of the old ones. Overall, I found their relationship to be slightly boring.
And why would Abraham Steele leave the houseboat to Beth and Charlie anyway? This unexplained plot point, plus other references to an earlier story, left me confused at times as to how the characters were connected. More explanation was definitely needed for readers just starting the series.
For the most part, I have enjoyed Pamela Bauer’s sweet, but slow-moving books over the years. With its predictable characters and plot, That Summer Thing didn’t quite satisfy.