"How well can we really know another person? People can be in your lives for years- they can fill your lives. But all you really know of them are the stories they tell you. And then they die. They always leave a mystery behind."
Half-sisters Pecksland (Peck) and Stella Blue (Cassie) are spending their summer in Southampton while sorting out their Aunt Lydia's estate. They end up finding a mystery. In her will, their aunt requested that they find a "thing of utmost value." Right after reading that passage of Lydia's will, Cassie thinks of a painting inscribed "To L.M. from J.P." The painting, which they suspect may be an early Jackson Pollock, goes missing soon afterwards. Further details aren't really necessary because the treasure hunt is never really the main focus of the plot, just an entertaining backdrop and deus ex machina.
The main story lies with Peck and Cassie. As children, they never spent much time together. Their father fell in love with Cassie's mother when he was still married and subsequently left Peck and her mother. The sisters are as different as night and day, as identical twins always are in popular culture. Peck is curvy, loud, and prone to exclamation. She wears a lot of vintage clothes (The descriptions of which made me jealous). Cassie has lived in Switzerland for most of her adult life, and is quieter, stick thin, and doesn't care about clothes. Everything is seen through Cassie's eyes, which is probably for the best. Peck would probably have been an overwhelming, inaccurate narrator.
Throughout the summer, Peck and Cassie connect as sisters for the first time. They learn to appreciate each other as almost the only family either has left. Both sisters find love with old acquaintances. Peck falls in love with ex-boyfriend Miles Noble, then falls out of love, then back in again. Cassie has a difficult time with old family friend Finn Killian. Peck is wooed by a Gatsby-themed party and monogrammed pool, Cassie by baseball games and family s'mores.
The Summer We Read Gatsby actually repeats a lot of the themes from one of my other Cannonball Reads, Paper Towns. The half-sisters didn't really know each other well, they didn't know their aunt well enough. On the second, nothing more could be done because Aunt Lydia was dead, to be abrupt. Yet, her death led to greater bonding between the sisters. Her death led to romance: Peck and Miles, Cassie and Finn. Lydia's death led to a whole new dysfunctional family. It's really incredibly beautiful to see the disconnection of death forge bonds of connection amongst the living. Nobody knows everything about any one person, no matter how close you get. There will always be secrets taken to the grave. Ultimately, we have to focus more on the living, forge our connections, and disclose our secrets while we still have the chance.