For Bobby Marks, summer does not equal fun.
While most people are happy to take off their heavy jackets and long pants, Bobby can't even button his jeans or reach over his belly to touch his toes. Spending the summer at Rumson Lake is sheer torture.
This particular summer promises to be worse than usual. His parents can't stop fighting. His best friend, Joanie, goes home to New York City and won't tell him why. Dr. Kahn, a rich, stingy estate owner who hires him to manage an enormous lawn, is working him to death. And to top it off, a local bully won't stop torturing him.
Bobby is about to find out just how terrifying and exhilarating one fat summer can be.
This story of one boy's struggles in the summer of 1955 is a snapshot of 1950s culture. The boy must deal with low self-esteem and family relationships, in addition to racial prejudice. At age 14, Bobby weighs over 200 pounds. His best friend, Joanie, has a long crooked nose, and the two of them are very good at pretending that they do not hear the cutting remarks of their peers. Since Joanie has to be away for a large part of the summer, Bobby decides to get a job to keep him busy and to avoid the embarrassing swimming activities at day camp on Rumson Lake. While his lean, athletic father rides him about his weight and his mother coddles and protects him from everything, Bobbie dreams of being a writer. The book he is writing in his head will be called, The Secret Summer. His careful descriptions of his surroundings as he narrates the story reflect his talent: "The lawn spread out before him like a velvet green ocean it was so large." From the descriptions of his daydreams, his way of dealing with the extreme heat and exhaustion of the new job, to his real life encounters with bullies, this is a tale about being scared, doing the right thing, and doing something for oneself. Although his father shows confidence in Bobby's ability to lose weight, his father's anger over his mother's job outside the home is misdirected toward Bobby. He keeps his job a secret so that he doesn't have to hear his parents' constant worries. His older sister keeps his secret in exchange for his silence about her visits with her boyfriend. Bobby's perseverance in the face of continuous teasing by year-round roughnecks sets a good example for children striving to overcome feeling like a misfit. 1991 (orig.1977), HarperTrophy/HarperCollins, Ages 12 up.