Invincible Summer

Ferris, Jean

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn
  • Date of entry: Oct-31-1996
  • Last revised: Aug-29-2006


Invincible Summer introduces illness and death into what might otherwise be a standard teen love story. Here, first love is also a last look at life, and the rites of passage into romance, sexuality, and intimacy are intensified and thrust into profound paradox by approaching death. Robin and Rick meet in the hospital where she has come for a battery of tests, and he for chemotherapy. Both have acute lymphocytic leukemia. He’s been sick for two years. She’s just finding out about her own condition.

Robin lives with her father, who can hardly bear to be around her illness, and her grandmother, who, since her mother died years ago in a car accident, is the primary caretaker. The father’s love has to be understood and accepted in light of his emotional limitations. The book thoughtfully explores how sickness rearranges family systems as well as treating familiar young adult themes of separation from friends, wanting sex, embarrassment about physical appearance, uncertainty of remission, and how to talk about the future.

After Rick’s death, at which Robin is present, Robin recalls a game her mother used to play, called "The Worst Thing." "What’s there to be afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen?" The aim of the game is to look at the worst case until it seems manageable, because for every worst thing, there is some way through to remedy or acceptance. The game, reproduced as internal dialogue, drives to ultimate questions, ending with something like Pascal’s wager--a version of intellectual comfort that will do in the absence of positive faith in the promise of afterlife.


In an interview for Contemporary Authors, Jean Ferris said she wrote for young people "because I care so much about them and find them so brave and complex." Her respect for her young characters is evident in this book, which convincingly credits both teenage protagonists with an emotional maturity not often attributed to the young. Their extraordinary dilemmas are not separated from the ordinary ones peculiar to their age, but the book does skillfully convey how time telescopes and life intensifies when its parameters shrink.

The weak father is a realistic reminder that parental love doesn’t always provide the sole or most reliable sustenance in time of trauma, and that even the sick may need to exercise compassion in a situation that stresses everyone in the family. The love story is tenderly told, the urgency of physical desire handled straightforwardly, and the friendship between the dying boy and girl described in a way that affirms the vitality of mind and spirit, and the will to live that lasts to the moment of death. The book could help young people overcome alienation they might experience when a friend their age falls seriously ill.


This novel won several literary awards for young adult fiction.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York