Amy Nelson thinks her summer vacation is, as you may have guessed from the book's title, ruined. Instead of spending it at home with her mother and friends, she's being shipped off to Israel to meet her father's (AKA Sperm Donor's) family--who, by the way, don't know she exists. Amy's father has never been in her life before; what gives him the right to drag her unwillingly to a foreign country that is a war zone where people are drafted into the army? To top it all off, she's now got to share one bathroom with six other people.
In How To Ruin A Summer Vacation, Amy's stay in Israel is not turning out to be the fabulous shopping experience her friend Jessica described it as. Instead, she's herding goats, being followed around by a dirty puppy with a speech impediment, and dealing with her annoying cousin, Osnat (AKA O'snot, or Snotty). Osnat obviously doesn't want her there, and neither do the other local teenagers, speaking in Hebrew when they know she can't understand, or calling her a spoiled American. Her father, though, keeps pushing for her to fit in.
The only thing that seems right in Israel is finally meeting her Safta, or grandmother. She's the reason that Amy is in Israel at all; Safta is sick, and Sperm Donor wants Amy to meet her grandmother while she has the chance. The two of them click immediately.
Of course, no summer vacation would be complete without a cute guy! Avi, while he may look great, however, is kind of a jerk. Amy could never like him, right?
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation is certainly a fun read and a page-turner (I actually read it all in one sitting), but it's also a very interesting look at life in another side of the world, and how it is both different and the same as life in America--and different from what we see on television. The reader, along with Amy, discovers what it really is to be Israeli, and how different it is from what the media always shows us.
Simone Elkeles' characters are very believable, and Amy's character in particular develops the way a real person would when put into the situations she is. All of the characters, however, seem very real. Their relationships don't always feel as completely developed as they could be, but I'm hoping that comes in the sequel, due out next year (which I can't wait to read!). Amy's attitude makes her a fun character to read about, and readers will probably sympathize with her--even when they don't really like her!
This fast-paced story, while a bit predictable, is a great read, and I'm glad there's going to be a sequel. Simone Elkeles writes in a way that will draw you in immediately, and have you laughing in all the right parts. Don't miss How to Ruin a Summer Vacation!
Veronika interviewed Simone--check it out here!