Lisa Freeman’s follow-up to Honey Girl captures the feeling of the last summer before senior year effortlessly. Riptide Summer is filled to the brim with teen drama and socioeconomic issues. Yet, none of the major issues are deeply explored nor the character's emotions intense enough to sympathize to make the YA novel more than a light summer read. And that's not a bad thing.
Nani’s spot in the lineup is secure at the beginning of the novel. But like any teen coming-of-age drama, her relationships begin to unravel quite fast. Her boyfriend is headed to India, her lover is pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby, her mother keeps lapsing into alcoholism, and her position on the lineup is a tossup if she doesn’t recruit the "it "girl. Plus, she wants to surf despite the rule.
There’s something very Moana about Nani. She has an urge for the ocean, to ride the waves and make her father proud. She rebels and surfs under the darkness of the night. Even though several people find out about one of her biggest secrets, it doesn’t affect her negatively like she assumed it would. In fact, she lands on the cover of a magazine.
Her sexuality, on the other hand, is a guarded secret she shares with only Wendy and Roxanne. Even if she doesn’t proclaim her relationships publically — it is 1973 after all— she no longer sees it as blackmail information. It takes her losing her virginity to Jeremy in the back of her ex-boyfriend’s van to confirm what she already knew. Nani’s growth is most evident when she’s confident whether it’s standing up to Roxanne or pretending she was going home to her grandmother so she wouldn’t get picked up by a party-busting cop.
On the other hand, Freeman’s secondary characters continue to be the same one-dimensional characters that appeared in the first novel, even when faced with serious issues. Roxanne continues to be an averagely vapid, mean girl. She hopes to use her pregnancy as leverage into forcing a marriage from Jeremy, nevermind that the baby could be Jeremy’s or Scott’s. Her abortion is a nod to Roe vs. Wade and ties the novel down to the setting more firmly. However, it does nothing to make her a multi-dimensional character, even as she lies in a hospital bed sick. Nigel is still the bland, wealthy boyfriend even though he’s decided to pursue a life as a priest after dealing with an abusive father. Jeremey develops just a smidgen by breaking the rules by surfing with Nani, which makes him more than just a teen surf god.
The one-dimensionality of the characters works in the case of the absentee alcoholic mom Jean. Even as she tries to improve, her failures seem to depict her hollowness. She claims Roxanne’s abortion would send her to hell and that’s against her religion. Hypocritically, just a few chapters later, she drunkenly sleeps with a man she barely knows.
Riptide Summer ends neatly. Nani finally comes to terms with herself— surfing, sexuality, her mother and her future. The lineup institutes a new rule where members stand up for each other and kindness is given more frequently.