The Year Without a Summer
Published August 16, 2022
About The Year Without a Summer
Explosive volcanic eruptions are cool, really, cool. They inject ash into the stratosphere and deflect the sun’s rays. When eighth grader Jamie Fulton learns that snow fell in June in his hometown because of an eruption on the other side of the world, he’s psyched! He could have snowboarded if he’d lived back in 1815 during the year without a summer.
Clara Montalvo, who recently arrived at Jamie’s school after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, has a different take all this. She is astounded–and disturbed–by Jamie’s frenzied enthusiasm for what she considers an obvious disaster. The teens’ battling arguments cause science class disruption and create academic trouble: Jamie’s headed for a failing grade in science, and may not even graduate from eighth grade; Clara’s scholarship hopes are dashed.
And school isn’t the only place where Jamie and Clara are facing hardship: as they quarrel whether natural disasters can be beneficial, their home lives are also unraveling. Uncertainty about Jamie’s wounded brother returning from Afghanistan and Clara’s unreachable father back in Puerto Rico forces the two vulnerable teens to share their worries and sadness. As their focus shifts from natural disasters to personal calamities to man-made climate changes, the teens take surprising steps that astonish them. Ultimately, through hard work and growing empathy for each other, as well as for their classmates’ distress over the climate change affecting their lives, Jamie and Clara empower themselves and the people they touch.
In reading THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER, the thing that stands out to me most is the way it models activism among youth. As Clara and Jamie learn more about natural disasters, what causes them, and as their family members experience the fallout from these disasters, they begin to wonder what they can do to help others in need. They ask questions. Do online research. Ask their friends and family members for help. I loved the way that journey is explored within the story.
I also loved that the story tied in real natural disasters, from Hurricane Maria to Tambora, the volcanic eruption in 1815. And that it explored what how people were resilient in spite of those disasters. It made for an interesting exploration of those topics.
On the whole, the only thing that disrupted my reading sometimes is that in a couple of scenes, Clara’s assessment of a complex emotional situation seemed possibly too mature. Like, I believe that her experiences would have made her grow up faster than her classmates in some ways. But there were a couple of instances where I found myself pulled out of the book because I wasn’t sure if even a mature eighth grader would think the way she did.
Other than that, though, I enjoyed the story and am really glad I read it. I love that it tackled issues but also centered the story on friendships and community.
Content Notes for The Year Without a Summer
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Clara is Puerto Rican. Jamie is white. His brother serves in the military.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Thoughts about kissing between boy and girl.
Brief descriptions of the war in Afghanistan. Brief descriptions of devastation caused by a hurricane, earthquake and volcanic eruptions.
One character takes powerful pain meds for injuries. Jamie wonders if it’s okay for the injured person to take so many pills.
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