The author of the well-known Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Ann Brashares, has come out with a new stand-alone young adult novel that also focuses on the summertime. But instead of best friends trading jeans, one complicated family trades time in a beach house on Long Island in "The Whole Thing Together."
Lila and Robert had three daughters together before their divorce. Both have remarried and had another child: Lila had Ray and Robert had Sasha. At the time of the novel, both Ray and Sasha are 17 and have never met. Lila and Robert had such a disastrous divorce that they can't even be in the same room together, so they have always carefully coordinated separate family gatherings.
Since Ray and Sasha are not related, they are kept apart. They share half-sisters, as well as a room in the beach house that the two sides of the family trade weeks in during the summer. They have always been aware of each other, living among each other's belongings in that shared bedroom. Ray knows the smell Sasha leaves on the sheets and Sasha knows the sight of Ray's beard hairs scattered on the sink after shaving, but neither even knows what the other looks like.
The point of view from which the novel is told shifts frequently, and sometimes not clearly, between Ray, Sasha and their three half-sisters: Emma, Quinn and Mattie. Emma has fallen in love with a man who works at her father's investment company, to her mother's dismay. Mattie is discovering a truth about her parents' past that threatens to upend her identity completely. Quinn is the glue that attempts to hold them all together.
In the midst of it all, Ray and Sasha start emailing back and forth and slowly fall in love. It's an odd relationship, but it provides a peaceful and sweet background to the tumultuous drama of their family's interactions, especially when it all collides into a Nicholas Sparks-like tragedy.
Overall, there's a beauty to this small-town summertime story. Even the scenes in New York City don't take away from the East Coast beach-side feel. The romance and the inter-family drama and healing make for a compelling story that is easy to read and, whatever its flaws, is still enjoyable for its strengths.
"The Whole Thing Together" includes infrequent but strong profanity and vague, implied sex between young adults.