Summer of '69 (Hardcover)
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Drawing from his teenage years, Todd Strasser’s novel revisits a tumultuous era and takes readers on a psychedelically tinged trip of a lifetime.
With his girlfriend, Robin, away in Canada, eighteen-year-old Lucas Baker’s only plans for the summer are to mellow out with his friends, smoke weed, drop a tab or two, and head out in his microbus for a three-day happening called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. But life veers dramatically off track when he suddenly finds himself in danger of being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam. If that isn’t heavy enough, there’s also the free-loving (and undeniably alluring) Tinsley, who seems determined to test Lucas’s resolve to stay faithful to Robin; a frighteningly bad trip at a Led Zeppelin concert; a run-in with an angry motorcycle gang; parents who appear headed for a divorce; and a friend on the front lines in ’Nam who’s in mortal danger of not making it back. As the pressures grow, it’s not long before Lucas finds himself knocked so far down, it’s starting to look like up to him. When tuning in, turning on, and dropping out is no longer enough, what else is there?
About the Author
Todd Strasser is the internationally best-selling author of more than one hundred books for children and teens, including Fallout and The Beast of Cretacea, as well as the classics The Wave and Give a Boy a Gun, which are taught in classrooms around the world. He lives in Westchester County, New York.
Strasser perfectly captures the golden haze of youth and life on the cusp of adulthood. Readers fascinated with this time period will find much to enjoy. All main characters are white, but Lucas' African-American conscientious objector counselor, Charles, offers his perspective on the war and the treatment of African-American soldiers. Vietnam, Woodstock, road trips, and acid trips: a sweetly bittersweet, surprising, even melancholy bildungsroman set against a world in flux. Groovy, man.
Strasser’s protagonist is a riveting character—funny, yet also pitiful; foolish, yet justifiably frightened; self destructive, yet at his core self aware. The seedy glamor of the counterculture is on display, but so is the looming question, “What if that were me?”
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The picture painted of the Woodstock music festival shows the dark side of peace and love, and the prevalence of drugs is on almost every page, though at times the use of psychedelics seems excessive. The best part of the book, however, is the one that transcends eras: Lucas' introspection as he contemplates his place in the world.
Strasser convincingly depicts the experience of the war and the opposition to it, the hippie culture of Woodstock, and the reality of using drugs. Much of the book is based on his personal experience as he explains in the author’s note. Strasser realistically portrays Lucas coming of age in the tumultuous free love defined by Woodstock.
Letters from Robin and a friend serving in Vietnam, newspaper headlines, and notices from the draft board provide ballast to Lucas’s self-centered perspective, as do his meetings with Charles, a Black draft counselor who gets Lucas to step outside of his own experience and see Vietnam as a “working-class war” that rich white kids evade by going to college while Black and blue-collar white kids get killed. An author’s note discusses the personal roots of Strasser’s tale.
—The Horn Book