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Carley Fortune's aching love story 'Every Summer After' is your next beach read

Set in a tiny lakeside town in Canada, "Every Summer After" is a moving story of first love and second chances — and we have an excerpt here.
Courtesy Jenna Marie Wakani

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When Carley Fortune was in fourth grade, her family moved from Australia to a tiny town on a lake two hours west of Ottawa, four hours north of Toronto, Barry’s Bay has a year round population of 1,200. In the winter, it’s cold and sleepy; in the summer, the town swells with cottagers at their vacation homes.

Fortune grew up working in the restaurant her family owned — and plotting her escape. She built a career in journalism, and is currently Refinery29 Canada’s executive editor.

But for her first novel, Fortune returned to Barry’s Bay. “Every Summer After,” out May 10, is a moving, redemptive, and undeniably sexy story of second chances at love, set in the lakeside town. “In many ways, it is a love letter to where I grew up,” Fortune told TODAY.

Persephone Fraser first meets Sam Florek on her first day at Barry’s Bay. A year-rounder, Sam lives next door to Percy’s new cottage. And every summer after that, their relationship deepens — until a rupture occurs that Persephone never quite recovers from. Following a decade of estrangement, Sam and Percy meet again. The connection is there, but is forgiveness?

Writing a book, Fortune said, was “not part of the plan.” But in the summer of 2020, Fortune was back in a cottage near Barry’s Bay, reading through old diaries and feeling nostalgic for childhood. “The emotions in those diaries felt raw to me, even 20 years later,” Fortune said. “I really yearned for my ‘person.’ I felt so isolated and lonely.”

"Every Summer After," by Carley Fortune

She decided to explore those feelings through a story, giving Sam and Persephone the “person” in each other that she always wanted at that age.

When she sat down to write, Fortune found the beats of plotting came naturally. After years of not reading as an adult, Fortune fell in love with books again in 2019, thanks to Jenny Han’s “To All the Boys I Loved Before” series. This prompted a YA kick, later transitioning into romance and rom-coms. "I didn't know books like this were out there. It became this thing where there were these big important books that you're supposed to read. Some of them I liked — but I didn't find my space in reading," Fortune said.

By reading voraciously with an editor’s eye for story beats, Fortune said, she had given herself "a crash course in writing books.” Her literary diet is apparent in “Every Summer After.” With its dual timelines, “Every Summer After” reads like a YA novel and its sequel, in which adults deal with and make up for their adolescent mistakes.

“One thing that I hope people really take away is the power of kind of forgiveness of others but also with yourself,” Fortune said.

Read an except from 'Every Summer After' by Carley Fortune

Summer, Seventeen Years Ago

I don’t think my parents knew when they bought the cottage that two adolescent boys lived in the house next door. Mom and Dad wanted to give me an escape from the city, a break from other kids my age, and the Florek boys, who went unsupervised for long stretches of the afternoons and evenings, were probably as big a surprise to them as they were to me.

A few of the kids in my class had summer homes, but they were all in Muskoka, just a short drive north from the city, where the word cottage didn’t seem quite right for the waterfront man- sions that lined the area’s rocky shores. Dad flat-out refused to look in Muskoka. He said if we bought a cottage there, we might as well stay in Toronto for the summer — it was too close to the city and too full of Torontonians. So he and Mom focused their search on rural communities further northeast, which Dad declared too developed or too overpriced, and then further still until finally they settled on Barry’s Bay, a sleepy, working-class village that transformed into a bustling tourist town in the summer, sidewalks bursting with cottagers and European sightseers on their way to camp or hike in Algonquin Provincial Park. “You’ll love it there, kiddo,” he promised. “It’s the real cottage country.”

I would eventually look forward to the four-hour drive from our Tudor in midtown Toronto to the lake, but that first trip spanned an eternity. Entire civilizations rose and fell by the time we passed the “Welcome to Barry’s Bay” sign, Dad and I in the moving truck and Mom following behind in the Lexus. Unlike Mom’s car, the truck had neither a decent sound system nor air-conditioning, and I was stuck listening to the monotonous hum of CBC Radio, the backs of my thighs glued to the vinyl bench and my bangs plastered to my clammy forehead.

Almost all the girls in my seventh-grade class got bangs after Delilah Mason did, though they didn’t suit the rest of us as well. Delilah was the most popular girl in our grade, and I considered myself lucky to be one of her closest friends. Or at least I used to, but that was before the sleepover incident. Her bangs formed a neat red valance over her forehead while mine defied both gravity and styling products, jutting out in odd poufs and angles, making me look every bit the awkward thirteen-year-old I was, rather than the mysterious dark-eyed brunette I wanted to be. My hair was neither straight nor curly and seemed to change its personality based on an unpredictable number of factors, from the day of the week to the weather to the way I slept the night before. Whereas I would do anything I could to make people like me, my hair refused to fall in line.

Winding down the bushland on the western shore of Kamaniskeg Lake, Bare Rock Lane was a narrow dirt road that lived up to its name. The drive Dad turned down was so overgrown that branches scraped the sides of the small truck.

“Smell that, kiddo?” Dad asked, rolling down his window as we bumped along in the truck. Together we inhaled deeply, and the scent of long-fallen pine needles filled my nostrils, earthy and medicinal.

We pulled up to the back door of a modest wood A-frame cabin that was dwarfed by the white and red pines that grew around it. Dad shut off the engine and turned to me, a smile below his graying mustache and eyes crinkling under dark-rimmed glasses, and said, “Welcome to the lake, Persephone.”

The cottage had this incredible smoky-wood smell. Somehow it never faded, even after years of Mom burning her expensive Diptyque candles. Each time I returned, I’d stand at the entrance, breathing it in, just like I did that first day. The main floor was a small open space, covered floor to ceiling in pale planks of knotted wood. Massive windows opened onto an almost obnoxiously stunning view of the lake.

“Wow,” I murmured, spotting a staircase leading from the deck and down a steep hill.

“Not bad, huh?” Dad patted me on the shoulder.

“I’m going to check out the water,” I said, already darting out the side door, which closed behind me with an enthusiastic thwack. I fled down dozens of steps until I reached the dock. It was a humid afternoon, every inch of sky carpeted by thick gray clouds that were mirrored in the still, silver water below. I could barely make out the cottages that dotted the far shore. I won- dered if I could swim across it. I sat on the edge of the dock, legs dangling in the water, shocked at how quiet it was, until Mom yelled down for me to help unpack.

We were tired and cranky from moving boxes and fighting off mosquitoes by the time we unloaded the truck. I left Mom and Dad to get the kitchen organized and headed upstairs. There were two bedrooms; my parents forfeited the lakeside one to me, saying that since I spent more time in my room, I’d make better use of the view. I unpacked my clothes, made the bed, and folded a Hudson’s Bay blanket at the end. Dad didn’t think we needed such heavy wool blankets in summer, but Mom insisted on having one for each bed.

“It’s Canadiana,” she explained in a tone that said that should have been obvious.

I arranged a perilously high stack of paperbacks on one nightstand and tacked up a Creature from the Black Lagoon poster above the bed. I had a thing for horror. I watched a ton of scary movies, my parents having long ago given up on censoring them, and hoovered classic R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books, as well as newer series about hot teens who turned into werewolves during full moons and hot teens who hunted ghosts after cheerleading practice. Back when I still had friends, I’d bring the books to school and read the good bits (as in anything gory or remotely sexy) aloud. At first, I just loved getting a reaction from the girls, loved being the center of attention but with the safety net of someone else’s words as the entertainment. But the more horror I read, the more I grew to love the writing behind the story—how the authors made impossible situations believable. I liked how each book was both predictable and unique, comforting and unexpected. Safe but never boring.

“Pizza for dinner?” Mom stood at the doorway, eyeing the poster but saying nothing.

“They have pizza?” Barry’s Bay hadn’t looked big enough to have delivery. And, it turned out, it wasn’t, so we drove to the takeout-only Pizza Pizza, located in a corner of one of the town’s two grocery stores.

“How many people live here?” I asked Mom. It was seven p.m., and most of the businesses on the main drag looked closed. “About one thousand two hundred, though I expect it’s probably triple that in the summer with all the cottagers,” she said. With the exception of a crowded restaurant patio, the town was pretty much deserted. “The Tavern must be the place to be on a Saturday night,” she commented, slowing down as we passed. “It looks like it’s the only place to be,” I replied.

By the time we got back, Dad had the small TV set up. There was no cable, but we had packed our family DVD collection.

“I was thinking ‘The Great Outdoors,’” said Dad. “Seems appropriate, don’t you think, kiddo?”

“Hmm . . .” I crouched down to inspect the contents of the cabinet. “‘The Blair Witch Project’would also be appropriate.”

“I’m not watching that,” Mom said, setting out plates and napkins next to the pizza boxes on the coffee table.

“‘The Great Outdoors’ it is,” said Dad, popping it into the player. “Classic John Candy. What could be better?”

The wind had picked up outside, moving through the pine boughs, and waves were now traveling across the lake’s surface. The breeze coming through the windows smelled like rain.

“Yeah,” I said, taking a bite of my slice. “This is actually pretty great.”

A bolt of lightning zigged through the sky, illuminating the pines and the lake and the hills of the far shore, like someone had taken a flash photo with a giant camera. I watched the storm, transfixed, from my bedroom windows. The view was so much bigger than the wedge of sky I could see from my room in Toronto, the thunder so loud it seemed to be right above the cottage, as though it had been custom ordered for our first night. Eventually the deafening claps faded into distant rumbles, and I slipped back into bed, listening to the rain pelting the windows.

Mom and Dad were already downstairs when I woke the next morning, momentarily confused by the bright sun coming through the windows and ripples of light moving across the ceiling. They sat, coffees at the ready, reading materials in hand—Dad in the armchair with an issue of The Economist, scratching his beard absentmindedly, and Mom on a stool at the kitchen counter, flipping through a thick design magazine, her oversized red-framed glasses balancing on the tip of her nose.

“Hear that thunder last night, kiddo?” Dad asked.

“Kinda hard to miss,” I said, grabbing a box of cereal from the still mostly empty cupboards. “I don’t think I got a lot of sleep.”

After breakfast, I filled a canvas tote with supplies—a novel, a couple of magazines, lip balm, and a tube of SPF 45—and headed down to the lake. Though it had poured the night before, the dock was already dry from the morning sun.

I placed my towel down and slathered sunscreen all over my face, then lay on my stomach, face propped on my hands. There wasn’t another dock for maybe another 150 meters on one side, but the one in the other direction was relatively close. There was a row- boat tied to it and a raft floating further out from shore. I pulled out my paperback and picked up from where I left off the night before.

I must have fallen asleep because I was suddenly jerked awake by a loud splash and the sound of boys yelling and laughing.

“I’ll get you!” one shouted.

“Like you could!” a deeper voice taunted.

Splash!

Two heads bobbed in the lake next to the neighbor’s raft. Still lying on my belly, I watched them climb onto the raft, taking turns launching themselves off in flips and dives and flops. It was early July, but they were both bronzed already. I guessed they were brothers and that the smaller, skinny one was probably close to my age. The older boy stood a head above him, shadows hinting at lean muscles running along his torso and arms. When he tossed the younger one over his shoulder into the water, I sat up laughing. They hadn’t noticed me until then, but now the older boy stood looking in my direction with a big smile across his face. The smaller one climbed up on the raft beside him.

“Hey!” the older boy shouted with a wave. “Hi!” I yelled back.

“New neighbor?” he called over. “Yeah,” I hollered.

The younger boy stood staring until the older one shoved his shoulder.

“Jesus, Sam. Say hi.”

Sam raised his hand and stared at me before the older boy pushed him back into the lake.

It took eight hours for the Florek boys to find me. I was sitting on the deck with my book after washing the dinner dishes when I heard a knock at the back door. I strained my neck but couldn’t see who Mom was talking to, so I tucked my bookmark into the pages and pushed myself out of the folding chair.

“We saw a girl on your dock earlier today and wanted to come say hi.” The voice belonged to a teenage boy, deepish but young sounding. “My brother doesn’t have anyone his age nearby to play with.”

“Play? I’m not a baby,” a second boy replied, his words cracking in irritation.

Mom looked at me over her shoulder, eyes narrowed in question. “You’ve got visitors, Persephone,” she said, making it clear she wasn’t exactly pleased about that fact.

I stepped outside and closed the screen door behind me, looking up at the tawny-haired boys I’d seen swimming earlier in the day. They were clearly related—both lanky and tanned—but their differences were just as plain. Whereas the older boy was smiling wide, scrubbed clean and clearly knew his way around a bottle of styling gel, the younger one was staring at his feet, a wavy tangle of hair falling haphazardly over his eyes. He wore baggy cargo shorts and a faded Weezer T-shirt that was at least one size too big; the older boy was dressed in jeans, a fitted white crew neck and black Converse, the rubber toes perfectly white.

“Hi, Persephone, I’m Charlie,” the bigger one said, with deep dimples and celery-green eyes dancing across my face. Cute. Boy-band cute. “And this is my brother, Sam.” He put his hand on the younger boy’s shoulder. Sam gave me a reluctant half grin from under a swoosh of hair, then looked down again. I figured he was tall for his age, but all that length made him gangly, his arms and legs twiggy sticks, and his elbows and knees sharp as jagged rocks. His feet looked like tripping hazards.

“Uh ... hey,” I started, looking between them. “I think I saw you guys down at the lake today.”

“Yup, that was us,” said Charlie while Sam kicked at pine needles. “We live next door.”

“Like, all the time?” I asked, giving oxygen to the first thought that came into my head.

“Year-round,” he confirmed.

“We’re from Toronto, so this,” I said, waving around at the surrounding bush, “is pretty new for me. You’re lucky to live here.”

Sam snorted at that, but Charlie went on, ignoring him. “Well, Sam and I would be happy to show you around. Wouldn’t we, Sam?” he asked his brother, not pausing for the answer. “And you’re welcome to use our raft anytime. We don’t mind,” he said, still smiling. He spoke with the confidence of an adult.

“Cool. I definitely will, thanks.” I gave him a shy smile back. “Listen, I have a favor to ask you,” said Charlie conspiratorially. Sam groaned from under his mop of sandy hair. “Some friends of mine are coming by tonight, and I thought Sam could hang out with you here while they’re over. He doesn’t have much of a social life, and you look about the same age,” he said, giving me a once-over.

“I’m thirteen,” I replied, glancing at Sam to see if he had an opinion on this proposal, but he was still examining the ground. Or maybe his submarine-size feet.

“Perrrrfect,” Charlie purred. “Sam’s thirteen, too. I’m fifteen,” he added proudly.

“Congratulations,” Sam muttered.

Charlie continued, “Anyway, Persephone...”

“Percy,” I interrupted with a burst. Charlie gave me a funny look. I laughed nervously and spun the friendship bracelet I wore around my wrist, explaining, “It’s Percy. Persephone is ... too much name. And a bit pretentious.” Sam straightened up and looked at me then, scrunching his eyebrows and nose momentarily. His face was kind of ordinary, no feature especially memorable, except for his eyes, which were a shocking shade of sky blue.

“Percy it is,” Charlie agreed, but my attention was still on Sam, who watched me with his head tilted. Charlie cleared his throat. “So as I was saying, you’d be doing me a huge favor if you’d entertain my little brother for the evening.”

“Jesus,” Sam whispered at the same time I asked, “Entertain?” We blinked at each other. I shifted my weight on my feet, not sure what to say. It had been months since I’d offended Delilah Mason so fantastically that I no longer had any friends, months since I’d spent time with someone my age, but the last thing I wanted was for Sam to be forced to hang out with me. Before I could say so, he spoke up.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want.” He sounded apologetic. “He’s just trying to get rid of me because Mom’s not home.” Charlie belted him across the chest.

The truth was I wanted a friend more than I wanted my bangs to behave. If Sam was willing, I could use the company.

“I don’t mind,” I told him, adding with false confidence, “I mean, it is a huge imposition. So you can show me how to do one of those somersaults off the raft as payback.” He gave me a lopsided grin. It was a quiet smile, but it was a great smile, his blue eyes glinting like sea glass against his sunny skin.

I did that, I thought, a thrill running through me. I wanted to do it again.

Excerpted from Every Summer After by Carley Fortune published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022