In Akyil’s debut young-adult romance, American teenager Rachel Guo learns about love and friendship on a summer trip to the west coast of Turkey.
Seventeen-year-old Rachel isn’t looking forward to spending her summer slinging coffee in Olympia, Wash., any more than 17-year-old Aylin is looking forward to spending her summer in Didim, Turkey, a tiny resort town on the Aegean Sea. Fortunately for both, Rachel accepts an invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to spend four weeks learning about Turkish culture, language and family structures. Aylin’s large extended family is eager to welcome an American into their home to teach their traditions and indulge with lavish cuisine; hopefully they can improve their English, too. Rachel learns that Turkish teenage girls and boys may hang out together at underage clubs, but they can’t openly kiss, hold hands or engage in foreplay; courtship often remains secret until both parties are sure they’re in love. Rachel reveals that her father, the son of Chinese immigrants, impregnated her mother out of wedlock, and Aylin judges Rachel’s loyalty and morality based on her parents’ mistake. But when Aylin’s boyfriend, Emre, tries to seduce Rachel, can Aylin put aside her prejudices before everything spirals even further out of control? Akyil’s charming, well-developed female characters are the foundations of this novel. The male players, however, are illustrated with one-dimensional characterization; they’re either stereotyped as good (those who adhere to cultural tradition) or bad (those who adopt more “Westernized” behavior). This is due, in part, to the facile prose and simple structure of the novel. Although the book reads as if it were written by a precocious teenager, the plot is swift and sure. The epistolary effects of emails and texts—complete with Internet jargon and teen slang—should keep the story contemporary and relatable to young-adult readers, and the book’s ending begs for a sequel.
Fans of Brashares’ Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series will enjoy this romantic tale of cultural exchange on the western shores of Turkey.