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A season to remember

29 June 2020 - 09:50 By Anna Stroud

Published in the Sunday Times (28/06/2020)

Sea Star Summer *****
Sally Partridge
Human & Rousseau

It sounds like a tongue twister, but Sea Star Summer is Sally Partridge's sixth novel for young adults - and a magical one at that. In the book, Partridge explores a setting close to her heart, Jeffreys Bay. Sixteen-year-old Naomi and her family drive all night from Cape Town to the picturesque beach town where she starts to make friends for the first time in her life.

Whip-smart, sarcastic and beautiful, Naomi prefers the company of Agatha Christie and Jane Eyre to real-life people. That is, until she meets the enigmatic Elize on the long stretch of pearlescent shell beach. Elize doesn't make fun of her red hair or her penchant for bookish facts and literary quotes, and the two soon form an unbreakable bond.

Partridge is known for her strong, fierce characters who don't fit the mould.

"I don't know how normal people think," the author said over a Zoom interview one chilly Friday. "I know how it feels to not fit in, to worry about what other people think and also not to worry about what other people think."

Naomi's mother is a psychiatrist who tells her she'll make friends if she just tries harder. Partridge skilfully portrays Naomi' s discomfort at speaking to people.

"I was awkward in high school," Partridge said. "In biology I ended up sitting next to someone who was in the 'cool crowd' and I remember not being able to talk to her. I was quiet, and I felt so different. I guess that's why my characters are all like that. I'm so used
to being on the fringe."

Partridge creates authentic characters who speak and text like real people and  deal with issues of identity and belonging.

She shared an anecdote of how she emerged from her shell after school.

"I took a copy-editing job at a newspaper in my early 20s. I was thrown into situations where I had to interview people and chase stories - very much out of my comfort zone - so that actually helped me a lot to do panels and talks and interviews today."

In Sea Star Summer, Partridge perfectly captures the wild beauty of Jeffreys Bay.
She explained where the title came from. "My partner is Afrikaans and when we first started dating two years ago, we decided to go on a road trip together. We went to Jeffreys Bay and stayed at his parents' property," she said. "It's the most incredible place. We used to go on beach walks every morning. We came to this little rock pool and he said, 'Sally, Sally, come look at all the sea stars' and I giggled and said, 'They're called star fish in English'."

In a shell, Sea Star Summer is "a small-town school holiday love story. Everybody has a what-they-did-on-their-school-holiday story and this is Naomi's."

Older adults can read it too, of course. And when you do, you're in for a wave of a time. @annawriter_