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Surface Tension: A Novel in Four Summers Library Binding – March 10, 2009

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Product Details

  • Library Binding: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037594446X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375944468
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,661,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Runyon (The Burn Journals, 2004) tracks the changes in an adolescent boy over four summers, from ages 13 to 16. Each section covers the family’s two-week vacation at their lakeside cottage. The repetitive structure allows readers to see the drastic changes in Luke as he veers from an exuberant middle-schooler whose primary concerns are making sure to fit in enough fishing, rock-skipping, exploring, and star-gazing, through early puberty in which the bikini-clad neighbors and sexual fantasies dominate his thoughts, to an alternately glowering and love-struck teenager finding expression in bad poetry and sullenness. Runyon fairly nails each stage of adolescence, which itself presents a tricky problem: readers who will be drawn to one end of the spectrum may not welcome the other. And at times, the details seem more suited to an adult nostalgia piece (did any kids have Star Wars bedsheets and an E.T. poster in 2005?). But Luke’s voice, narrating in the present tense, and his fixations are believable throughout, and Runyon displays a knack for drawing dramatic tension out of the most routine personal encounters. Grades 8-11. --Ian Chipman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2009:
“Runyon reveals how life changes us all and how these unavoidable changes can be full of both turmoil and wonder.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 23, 2009:
"The detail-rich story offers the type of intensity that sneaks up on readers."

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on June 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Traditions are funny things. Sometimes we eagerly, even cynically, outgrow the traditions that shape our childhood memories --- putting out cookies for Santa, buying new unsharpened pencils for the first day of school --- only to have them become increasingly important over time, shaping the way we think about family life and time passing as adults.

Traditions play a big part in Brent Runyon's novel, SURFACE TENSION. In a way, the book is all about tradition --- the tradition of Luke's family heading to their lake cabin for two weeks each summer. It's also about the small traditions that make up that annual pilgrimage, whether it's his dad buying his favorite peppermint stick ice cream, to the family noticing all the changes to the "neighborhood" from the previous year, to Luke charging into the lake for a first chilly swim even before unpacking his suitcase.

When we first meet Luke, he is 13 and has been waiting for these blissful two weeks all year: "Here we are. We're back. It feels like it's been forever and no time at all." In typical early-adolescent fashion, only-child Luke alternates between complaining of boredom and, when it's finally time to go home, regretting that he hasn't had enough time to do everything he had hoped.

By the next summer, Luke has discovered girls --- or at least discovered that he really likes staring at their chests, even if the girl he is attracted to (his neighbor's son's girlfriend) seems to see him as only a kid. He is also increasingly annoyed with his parents and their embarrassing habits, a tendency that only grows during the summer when he's 15, when he brings his best friend to the cabin with him.

When Luke is 16, during the fourth summer profiled in the novel, girls have apparently discovered him back.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By greg on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
So good, so good. Here I am on my summer vacation, travel through Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming... and I find this little gem, like it was meant to be read by the side of a lake or a swimming pool or by flashlight late at night as my family sleeps in our motel room.

The book is Surface Tension by Brent Runyon (The Burn Journals), a Novel in Four Summers. Like a Same Time, Next Year for teen boys, Surface Tension perfectly captures the pivitol teen years of Luke, a young man who each summer goes away with his parents to their rundown lakeside cabin. Told in four chapters, one for each summer from age 13 to 16, this is a great concept that pays off with its lovely details of summers long past. Each year Luke's world gets darker and more complex as he yearns for the simplicity of his early years on the lake, at the same time diving head first into the unknown of the murky depths of life. Like a real life vacation, you wish it would go on forever but deep down, you know that all good things must come to an end. A perfect summer read.
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Format: Hardcover
This review has been crossposted from my blog at The Cosy Please head there for more in-depth reviews by me, which appear on a timely schedule.

This is a novel of 4 summers, describing Luke's life from 14 to 16 years, just in the summers he spends at his parents beach house. Runyon shows great control and understanding of the teenage mind, and it is as if you are stepping literally between the summers.

I won't waste your time with a synopsis, I'm sure you can find plenty of better ones on the internet. Basically, Luke spends every summer with his parents by a lake. Their neighbours come and go, but there are always some of the same feelings for Luke. Luke must change with his surroundings or be changed by them.

The thing that stood out most for me was not the growing attraction of Luke towards girls (which is there, and in some places kind of explicitly described), but how he seems to always hurt himself. It is striking that in the last summer of this book, he is able to save someone else, and this marks the turning point of his character. Finally he is growing up, and will get to be a respectable adult. 16 years seems a little late for this to me, when I think of my partner, but then I remember the maturity levels of my highschool years and I think that the males encapsulated in this book are remarkably well described.

The pace is fast, and this makes me feel that this is an ideal book for teens, particularly males. Runyon again produces a novel that makes you feel close to the protagonist. It's amazing how he can get inside Luke's mind. If I didn't know better, I would have said he was writing each section from a diary of his own thoughts! The progression of the character is amazing.
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By TeensReadToo on September 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gold Star Award Winner!

Luke's parents own a cottage by the lake, and his family has been coming there for two weeks every summer ever since they moved out of the area.

When Luke is 13, he's extremely excited to be back at his most favorite place in the world. Running over the rocks on their beach, climbing the creek up to the waterfall, and fishing in the pond by the dairy farm... Each of these experiences holds a memory for him, but none seem to be as fun as they used to be.

The following year, he's not feeling quite as excited. Their new neighbor is causing a lot of problems, but, as a result, Luke's family finally befriends the conservative, rich family that lives next door. However, things get weird as Luke tries to navigate his feelings about the attractive girlfriend of the family's oldest son.

The next year, when Luke is 15, their issues with the bad neighbor escalate, and Luke has his best friend, Steve, in tow. Steve doesn't quite seem to get Luke's feelings about the lake and their experiences at the cottage, however, so that results in another weird summer.

When Luke is 16, he has no idea why he decided to come to the lake this year. His girlfriend is at theater camp, and Luke spends most of his time thinking about her and wishing she were there. Even when tensions rise among the neighbors and result in a near tragedy and yet another emergency room trip for Luke, he finds that he must come to grips with the ever-changing nature of time.

This "novel in four summers" took my breath away with its elegantly tailored narration and down-to-earth voice, which shifts slightly throughout to reflect Luke's age. A story such as this, I believe, will bring a wave of nostalgia to even the most jaded teen reader, as the main character's struggle with his own cynicism and changing perceptions come across as very real and true.

Reviewed by: Allison Fraclose
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