Desert Isle Keeper
Quinn Anderson’s sunlight-warm story is a strong and well-written novel about moving from your late teens into the confusing mess of your twenties, all set up against the backdrop of family angst and self-discovery.
Aiden and Max Kingsman have been inseparable from birth – quite literally. Twins who share everything, they’ve been seen as an indivisible unit for years – Aiden even turned down going to NYU so the brothers could go to the same college, and they haven’t moved away yet from the blue house where they grew up. At twenty, Aiden is chafing at the restraints of twinhood, while Max’s extroverted, leisure-loving personality means he has plenty of friends and social connections but no career ambitions, Aiden plans intensely for a career in engineering, feeling adrift among Max’s social set. Wanting to be seen as someone who exists beyond being Max’s ‘my brother Aiden’, he’s taking a risk and moving alone to the Bronx in the fall to finish college in the city. When his childhood crush on Oliver Jones returns with a vengeance upon seeing the man he’s become, all of Aiden’s plans for the future suddenly seem unstable – and so does his relationship with his twin.
Oliver Jones has always loved the Kingsman twins and is delighted to meet up with them again after losing contact with them for years. Home from college for the summer, he’s dealing with family landmines involving his bickering, divorced parents and the lack of understanding he receives from the rest of his family. Their less-than-felicitous relations caused Oliver to become something of an addition to the Kingsman troop over the years, and he always used to wish he was part of their happy, close-knit clan. He’s also been oblivious to the massive crush Aiden has harbored on him for years, as well as Aiden’s queerness. When, during their first long talk after the reunion, Oliver comes out to the twins and then Aiden comes out to him, the change between them is seismic. Though he wants to pursue something with Aiden, the layers of the past lying between them makes chasing romance something fraught with tension.
As far as Max is concerned, he, Oliver and Aiden have always been thick as thieves – the Three Musketeers, hanging out in a happy group. When Aiden and Oliver start getting closer on a romantic level, he worries about being left behind by them both, and he feels a little bitter and a lot worried about his bond with Aiden. When a surprising moment between Max and Oliver leads to Aiden feeling betrayed, it’s up to Aiden to figure out whether or not to trust his new love and his new independence.
There’s something incredibly lovely about the simplicity of this novel. Beautiful, lived-in and realistic without being bathetic or overly dramatic, Fourteen Summers captures the universal difficulty of discovering oneself and living through a first love with a deft hand.
Oliver and Aiden’s romance is terribly sweet. Oliver makes a very nice contrast to Aiden’s introverted scientist-type, and their romance – though fast-moving – makes sense with the amount of history that exists between them. If you’re into innocent-meets-slightly experienced, the pairing has it in spades, but Aiden is never at a disadvantage; as he claims his own wings and learns how to be an adult out of Max’s shadow, his relationship develops him instead of curtailing him. Just as Oliver has to learn to see the best in his own troubled family, Aiden must supersede the cozy nest of his family in order to grow.
And Max – social, loud, uncouth – is caught in a state of arrested development that’s left him wondering if he should try to commit to a new relationship.
Which brings me to the only element of the novel that’s underdeveloped – and considering its focus I understand why it is – Max’s romance with a woman named Jessica, which weaves in and out of the story but never really feels like a completed subplot. I wouldn’t want this romance to be more central to the narrative, but I think it could have used a little bit more flesh on its bones. But that’s very minor quibble.
Fourteen Summers is a rich, enchanting experience that’s cozy, lively, and well worth a read.