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Book Review

Summerlost by Ally Condie has been reviewed by Focus on the Family ‘s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

A year after her father and autistic brother, Ben, die in a car accident, 12-year-old Cedar Lee’s mother buys a summerhouse in her hometown of Iron Creek. Cedar soon meets Leo Bishop, who works in the annual Summerlost Shakespearean festival. After shadowing Leo, she gets a job with it, too.

Leo, also 12, is a boy with big ideas. One of them is to earn extra money by giving walking tours of the places a long-dead actress, Lisette Chamberlain, used to frequent. Since it’s the 20th anniversary of Lisette’s mysterious death, Leo thinks his tours will be a lucrative venture.

To increase appeal, he plans to guide visitors through the tunnels that connect the theater to the actors’ dressing rooms, tunnels — where Lisette’s ghost is rumored to appear — and guide them to the cemetery where she’s buried. He thinks Cedar would be a perfect partner. Cedar agrees to help with the early-morning tours but doesn’t get her mother’s permission. Instead, she lies that she is going running with Leo. They don’t have the permission of the Summerlost management either, so they secretly promote their business.

Throughout the story, random objects mysteriously appear at night on Cedar’s bedroom windowsill, the kind of objects her brother, Ben, used to collect: a screwdriver, a bracelet, a wire whisk — things he called fidgets. She wonders how they got there and who put them there. She briefly thinks Lisette’s ghost is responsible, and maybe Lisette is trying to help her heal from her grief. She then wonders if there is some way she can help Lisette. Then she realizes that ghosts aren’t real and laughs at herself for thinking they were, even for a few minutes. She decides it must be Leo.

Leo’s walking-tour business flourishes, and he and Cedar become best friends. Cedar also volunteers in the costume department so she can learn more about Lisette from a seamstress, Meg, who was Lisette’s friend. One of the town boys, Cory, tells them that he knows about their secret business, and he plans to inform the theater.

Everything unravels once management knows, and Cedar’s mother and Leo’s parents learn they’ve been lied to. Cedar and Leo are fired from their Summerlost jobs, too, but Cedar continues to volunteer in the costume department.

One afternoon Cedar finds and steals Lisette’s ring from a costume box. She leaves it on her windowsill for Leo or Lisette’s ghost to take, but all the while she hopes that it is somehow Ben who’s been leaving the fidgets. But it turns out that it’s her younger brother, Miles, who’s been leaving things.

Cedar returns the ring to Meg in costumes and apologizes. She explains how the tunnels and Lisette’s story fascinate her and Leo. Meg agrees to let them into the tunnels for a midnight exploration. They do not find any ghosts, and their curiosity is satisfied. Then Cedar, Miles and their mother leave Iron Creek until the next summer.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Cedar reflects on where her father and brother are in heaven and what it’s like there. She imagines it to be like the waiting rooms in which her autistic brother often spent time, with beige chairs, a TV and old magazines — just waiting for the rest of the family to die or for God to come and say something, whichever came first.

A vulture hangs around the tree outside Cedar’s window, and she wonders whether it or Lisette’s ghost or Ben leaves the items on her sill. Rumors say that Lisette’s ghost can be seen in the tunnels after performances.

Cedar’s dad’s favorite Christmas song was “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” written by John MacFarlane, a Mormon. The song is primarily a Mormon Christmas carol.

Authority Roles

Cedar’s mother and father impressed on their kids how very much in love they were. Her mother, occupied with grief and fixing up the house, still tries to keep a finger on the pulse of her children’s lives. She is aware that Cedar spends a lot of time with Leo. When she finds that they have disobeyed, she immediately deals with the problem. But their disobedience continues for a long time before she discovers it, and even after she learns of it, they continue to circumvent her rules.

Cedar thinks about all the things she didn’t know about her dad. She didn’t know whether he believed in God.


No profanity, but a few crass words are used such as crappy and butt. Cedar calls a group of mean boys hell’s farts; Leo changes the term to Hellfarts. When one of the boys walks past her, Cedar vocalizes a noise to make it appear like he is passing gas. Miles can’t figure out how a lady buried alive in a coffin goes to the bathroom.


A little juvenile teasing occurs when one of the mean boys says Cedar is Leo’s girlfriend. Leo and Cedar are concerned that people will think they are dating because they are together so much, so Leo tells people she is his cousin. Cedar feels flattered when Leo thinks she is funny and uncertain as to whether he might be flirting with her.

Cedar, Miles, Leo and Leo’s teen brother watch a trashy soap opera that shows a couple kissing. Miles hides his face in embarrassment, and the scene mortifies Cedar as she sits next to Leo.

Cedar snickers over the word codpieces. She wonders who was the first girl her dad ever kissed when he was a teenager. Cedar says her heart started racing as she sat with Leo at a play in the dark. When they move closer together for warmth, Cedar notes that their arms and legs touch.

Leo tells Cedar that she is cute, and she thinks he is cute. She imagines kissing him and holding his hand, and they hug at the end of the scene.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Ally Condie






Record Label



Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC


On Video

Year Published





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