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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306

Occurring in the 1980s, Those Summer Girls I Never Met has two settings, a moderately wealthy Chicago suburb and an elegant cruise ship that stops at Scandinavian and Russian ports of call. Stephanie and Drew are hangers-on in the suburbs, although they seem not to know it. Their father has remarried, and though his support checks arrive regularly, their mother still must work hard as a legal secretary to maintain their standard of living. Drew is shy, works hard at school, and seems to be on the verge of growing up. He, at least, is marginally aware of his mother's difficulties. Stephanie, however, is a creature formed by MTV, Cyndi Lauper, the phone, and the mall and is aware only of her own desires. Everyone has been wounded by the divorce: Drew misses his father; his mother is lonely, feels rejected, and is insecure; and Stephanie needs the awareness of another person's will, a wall to butt against.

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Life aboard the cruise ship, Regal Voyager, is both a complete life-support system in many ways and a challenge. Stephanie and Drew must deal with a grandmother who not only is basically a stranger to them but who is also a revered star among an older generation of Americans and among jazz lovers in England and even Denmark. Although Connie provides the necessities for Drew and Stephanie, they must respond to life's opportunities and demands. For Drew this means taking dance classes from a woman so beautiful he nearly swoons at the sight of her, but it also means helping his drunken grandfather back to the ship so that he doesn't lose his job. For Stephanie, learning of her grandmother's cancer is like the discovery of a new world. She learns to respond to the needs of others and is no longer driven by her own imperious will.

Literary Qualities

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Those Summer Girls I Never Met is told in first-person narration with mostly comic, fantastic, and melodramatic action. The comedy arises through situations and dialogue. Most are embarrassing situations that the participants only later see as humorous, such as Drew's getting caught nude in a jacuzzi intended for both sexes. The humor in the dialogue is mostly expressed through puns and verbal situations similar to malaprops—words used incorrectly. Most of the malaprops come through song titles. When Mr. Morthland, for example, tells Drew "Do nothing til you hear from me," and Drew responds with a serious "Okay," Mr. Morthland must explain that he merely said the title of one of Connie's big songs.

The pathos of melodrama is achieved by turning sympathetic innocent characters into victims. Mrs. Wingate is a victim of her husband's divorce, Connie is a victim of cancer, and the Krebs family is a victim of Soviet caprice with respect to Mrs. Krebs' mother. All of these situations cause readers to feel sympathy for the characters.

The fantasy is mostly in the form of dream fantasy, mostly Drew's dreams about Holly and her three beautiful friends—Sandi, Helga, and Jean. All of these young women are aware of what they mean to Drew and treat him with affection and wisdom.

Social Sensitivity

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Unlike Peck's novels, such as Are You in the House Alone?, Those Summer Girls I Never Met is nostalgic. However, several contemporary problems can be seen in it: the separation of parents and children because of divorce or careers, the difficulty of dealing with the death of a loved one, and the crippling effects of alcoholism. In many respects, the weaknesses of Drew and Stephanie's mother are caused by Connie's abandonment of Drew's mother while she pursued her singing career. Connie is subconsciously making up for this by taking her grandchildren on a cruise.

Connie's approach to her death and her grandchildren's response raises questions about responsibility and dignity. She wants them to know her while she is still strong and not to be with her as her health deteriorates. Certainly, this wish can reflect a kind of caring—not wanting others to see and feel the suffering of a long and painful illness. But shielding young people from the reality of death is not always in their best interests, nor is dying alone necessarily noble.

Shep's alcoholism, which ruined his marriage to Connie as well as his career as a jazz pianist, is sad to witness. As his grandson, Drew, looks at Shep's hands, he sees that they are the only parts of Shep's body that seem alive, and he pities his grandfather on that account. Connie's medicine for Shep is tough—he must either change or leave—and she cautions her grandchildren not to mourn what never was. Connie is no more charitable to her husband than she was to her daughter, raising questions as to whether she should be regarded as a positive role model for her grandchildren.

Peck sometimes seems out of touch with the current generation of young people. On the one hand, Stephanie is very much a product of the new generation, whereas Drew often seems like a character from the early 1950s. It is doubtful whether a modern-day boy in a dinner jacket would look into a mirror and see himself as Fred Astaire. Also, the conservatism and obedience of Drew seem characteristic of an older generation of young people. Had Peck intentionally contrasted the values of different generations this could have emerged as a thematic strength, but the roles (and role models) of those generations are more muddled than instructive.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 149

Peck, Richard. Love and Death at the Mall: Teaching and Writing for the Literate Young. New York: Delacorte, 1994. Peck, as a former teacher, discusses his aims and methods as a writer of adolescent novels.

——. "People of the Word." Arkansas Libraries 38 (December 1981): 13-16. Peck describes his concern about coming of age through a separation from peer expectations and describes his work learning about adolescence from adolescents.

——. "Richard Peck." In Something About the Author. Vol. 2. Edited by Adele Sarkissian. Detroit: Gale, 1986. Peck's narrative essay on his origins is beautifully written; he describes in moving detail how settings and people from his past have influenced the genesis and development of each of his novels.

Stanek, Lou Willett. "Just Listening: Interviews with Six Adolescent Novelists." Arizona English Bulletin 18 (April 1976): 23-38. Contains some interesting observations by Peck on narrative point of view and topics for young adult novels including a neglected one, social class.

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