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Adelia Monteforte is just sixteen when she flees Italy as war rages in Europe, travelling alone to America to stay with her aunt and uncle. Adelia – or Addie as she becomes known as – struggles to fit in until she meets the Connallys, a family with four boys who live next door to Addie’s aunt and uncle’s summer house. Addie quickly falls for Charlie, the oldest Connally boy but tragic events keep them apart.
Fleeing once again, Addie finds herself in London, amongst the bombings and grief of a city in the full throes of war. But her past catches up with her and Addie is forced to make some tough, often heartbreaking decisions as she tries to find her way back home again.
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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is full of grief and heartache as war and tragedy tears through the lives of Addie and the Connally family, but it is also crammed with hope and dreams and, ultimately, love. I loved Jenoff’s writing as I was immediately swept away by Addie’s story. There was an ease to the writing, despite the loss and tragedy within. I found myself totally engrossed in the story of Addie and Charlie and the rest of the Connally family and although I enjoyed the whole story, it was this part that truly captivated me. The story takes place in both America and the UK during the Second World War and it was interesting to see the differences in how each country was affected by the war, as well as the similarities.
We don’t see all that much of Addie’s aunt and uncle, as the main focus is on Charlie and the Connallys, but I quite liked them. Aunt Bess is quite stiff and lacking in warmth but I had to respect her and Uncle Meyer for taking on the responsibility of a teenage girl without much notice or experience. I felt that Addie didn’t always appreciate her aunt and uncle and what they had done for her, but I think she gets it by the end. She’s still young when we meet her, but she learns a lot over the course of the novel.
For me, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is a poignant, coming-of-age story with the backdrop of a brutal war. Well-written and evocative, the book was gripping from the start.