Book Review: Until September by Harker Jones

It’s been a while since I’ve read a coming of age story that didn’t involve magic. Yet there is something just as magical in beginning to understand oneself and the changes that life inevitably brings as there is in traversing realms and flying on dragons. Until September is a coming of age story by Harker Jones that explores the love between two boys and the consequences that growing up and falling in love can bring.

This story follows Kyle as he summers on the island during the last summer before going away to college. He and his four friends, Trent, Claudia, Carly and Dana, have been spending their summers together since they were children and they intend to spend this one together as well. But Jack, newly arrived to the island for the summer, draws Kyle’s attention in a way that could compromise his friendships and change everything, because he falls in love. Amidst the tensions in his friend group, the pressures of familial expectations, and the all-encompassing love, things will never be the same, no matter how hard one tries to pretend otherwise.

I was intrigued by this story in a way that I am not for most coming of age stories. I think the dynamics played out between the five friends, even before Kyle and Jack fall in love, was fascinating and also the perfect set-up for the events later in the summer. There are threads of tension between the friends already, and the author teases them out as the summer progresses, making something small suddenly looming and potentially fatal for the friends. Even without Jack and Kyle’s love story overlaying the piece, I think the relationships between the friends would have been enough to carry the story.

That brings us to the relationship. Kyle and Jack present as the epitome of overwhelming, star-crossed lovers. Their time together is both poetic and tragic, and the prose reflects that in the words spoken between them. I will say that Kyle’s love seemed more obsessive than healthy, but many first loves can present that way. It was the ending which made the love story feel more tainted, I think, than anything, because it had Kyle almost stuck there. Still, they were well suited and I think the story played upon their strengths and insecurities well, taking a summer romance an turning it into one of the great romantic tragedies.

Familial tensions also play a huge role in this book, as they do in almost everyone’s life as they grow up. Or older. I really enjoyed the family dynamic between Kyle and his parents, as well as the shadow of Kevin that seemed to cover every memory of the summer. The realisation that one’s parents aren’t what you thought, that their flaws and secrets are just as real as your own, is a difficult thing and I found the way that this book portrayed it poignant, yet sharp.

One thing that did bother me was the frequent mention of the Belle Epoque as “the pretty time.” While technically a possible translation of that phrase, Belle Epoque is more commonly and accurately translated as “beautiful age” or “beautiful era”, which I find actually fits the book better. Still, this is merely a pet peeve of a linguist and author, so not likely to be relevant to most people.

Overall, I would say that Until September was a masterfully written book with enough heart to fill the gaps left over from the memories of the past. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I also found myself unsettled by the ending in the best way. A very good book.