It’s the summer of 1972. Whilst America is at war in Vietnam, the teenagers of Elephant Beach, Long Island carry on their lives regardless. Katie wonders if this is the summer she will finally get it together with Luke, but he has returned from Vietnam a different man. What does this summer, on the cusp of adulthood, hold for her and her friends?

It feels more like a collection of character studies than a fully formed novel, strung together by being mutual acquaintances of the narrator, Katie. The girls chatter about losing their virginity and face the consequences of unprotected sex. Teen pregnancy is rife and some choose to keep their babies while others risk back street abortion or put them up for adoption.

Katie and her friends are all reaching that point in their lives where they need to make decisions about who they want to be. Their stories have common themes of moving on, either physically out of Elephant Beach, with its lack of prospects, or choosing new friends or purpose. In some cases, the changes are more tragic. Katie’s a bit of a dreamer, a bit naive, but at times she shines.

There’s some pieces of beautiful writing, but I think the lack of strong plot will be a let-down for many people. Some of the dialogue could be taken as offensive but it fits the era. No one would expect the young men to be well-spoken so why should the women be too? Adolescence can be a harsh time, and that fact hasn’t changed much over the decades.

I would have liked to have seen more focus on the young men returning from Vietnam. Luke, the object of Katie’s affections appears to be deeply troubled, but really she’s only ever admired him from afar. She isn’t close enough to really know what’s going on. Mitch is closer to her, and more outspoken, but it’s still something that is an undercurrent in the town. Perhaps the point is that people distanced themselves from the war. It was happening elsewhere and life just went on as normal.

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go (does it win the longest title ever award?) is published by Tinder Press and will be available from the 30th October 2014 in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.