Book Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

The Whole Thing TogetherTitle: The Whole Thing Together
Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Format: Paperback ARC
Source: Publisher @ ALA
Age Group: YA/Adult
Genre: Contemporary

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.
Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past. The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.
Family is one big, beautiful mess. That's the sentence I'd use to describe this book.

A little bit of a disclaimer up front: if you're looking for a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants type story, this one is not it. You will be sorely disappointed if you go in with that expectation. This story is closer to her The Last Summer (of You and Me) which I read when it published ten years ago and I've re-read since. I think it's why I enjoyed this one so much.

Also, I'd venture to say that when I picked this one up, I thought I was reading YA but I think this is more of an NA/Adult fiction book. There are two characters who are 17-year-old but the story is told in third person omniscient (which can be a bit jarring if you're not used to this format) which means we also get the perspective of the older family members and their issues will certainly be relatable to an older reader.

The family dynamics in this book is fairly common these days but the way it's presented in the book is unique. At the beginning, I was a bit confused because it is a lot of people to keep track of so I did consult the "family tree" at the beginning of the book several times. But as I read, I thought Brashares did a great job at making each character distinct enough that I followed easily along after about the 50-page mark.

It's hard to review this one being that it's a short book and the characters, while all having distinct story lines, are enmeshed throughout. In their own way, they do grapple with their identities, even the adults. I come from a set of parents who are still together so it's always fascinating to me to read these family stories which are so different from mine. I can relate with the drama, though, because whose family doesn't suffer from a healthy dose of it?

There was something in the book that I could see coming, and was necessary to the overall story arc, but nonetheless felt contrived. And this book did include diversity and issues surrounding that diversity that I don't think was presented in a racist or stereotypical manner (as some Goodreads reviews point out). Overall, this one was a quick, enjoyable read for me. And I think I will always read anything Ann Brashares writes.


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