“If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.” — John Burroughs
I was very pleasantly surprised by this little gem of a book. Well, it’s not little at 246 pages, but it is sure a gem. The title, The Last of the Summer Tomatoes really grabbed my eye and I hadn’t heard of Sherrie Henry before. I’ll make sure to look for her next book!
The meaning of the title isn’t revealed until very close to the end of the book. I’ll admit I was trying to figure it out for a while until Ms. Henry finally revealed it. Then I cried. It wasn’t the first time I had cried while reading The Last of the Summer Tomatoes, but it was definitely the ugliest cry of the book.
In The Last of the Summer Tomatoes, Sherrie Henry introduces us to two incredibly likeable young men. Kyle Jackowski is 17 years old and has some minor offenses on his criminal record. This particular time, he is actually not guilty of the vandalism he was charged with. He took the punishment for a friend.
Instead of going to juvie, Kyle winds up in a program for non-violent youthful offenders aimed at helping the state’s struggling farming industry. He is placed at “Walt’s Dairy” which is owned by Walt and Glenda Johnson. The plan is for him to work for them for the summer to earn enough money to pay for the damages to the store that was vandalized, while also helping a small family farm. When he turns 18, his record will be sealed. I don’t know if a program like this actually exists, but I think it’s a great idea.
The Johnson’s son Sam is away at college and is expected to return home a couple of days after Kyle arrives at the farm. Sam is 19 and openly gay. Kyle has been horribly abused and mistreated by his step-father for being gay. Kyle doesn’t know Sam is gay, but as soon as they see each other, the attraction to one another ignites.
Ms. Henry writes a moving story during which Sam’s kindness and that of his loving parents slowly show Kyle that he is worthy of love. Kyle realizes that he feels like the Johnson farm is “home” and that he can never go to his mother’s and step-father’s home again. Kyle learns how a real family interacts. He sees that touches can mean love and comfort, not hate and pain.
As Kyle comes to accept his worthiness, he realizes he has fallen in love with Sam. They begin dating, but the whole time, Kyle has planned to go to art school in the fall as scheduled. Sam will return to his college and their “summer fling” will end. Kyle’s sadness and the ease with which he accepts this as what he feels must be their destiny is heart-breaking. Ms. Henry writes his feelings so authentically that they became my feelings. I cried for him and for Sam, and for Walt and Glenda Johnson, who loved Kyle as much as they did their own son.
When Kyle & Sam leave the farm in the fall, Kyle’s carefully thought out plan falls to pieces. He is still in love with Sam. He makes a friend or two, even dates a little, but is unable to get over Sam. Mrs. Johnson sends Kyle care packages from the farm. I will let you read the book to find out the meaning of The Last of the Summer Tomatoes because you need to feel it for yourself.
When Sam shows up at Kyle’s dorm-room door on New Year’s Eve, Kyle realizes that Sam has had just as much trouble forgetting his love for Kyle. They ring in the new year together…
Reviewed by: Tina