“Reviewed by Fran Lewis: My Last Summer With You: No Fanfare for a Withered Rose: Fidelis O. MKPARU
Life can change in the flick of a moment or in this case when answering the phone. As one man now comparing himself to a withered rose, or flower reflects on his aging body a voice from the past will bring back memories that will flood into his present. What happens when one woman decides to leave you part of her own legacy in order to enrich your later years? When Joseph remembers Wendy and hears the voice of Francesca we go back 31 years to 1977 and enter the halls and dorm of a small town college in Chicago and learn more about this remarkable man.
As Joseph takes us back in time we learn a lot about his culture, his feelings and his discipline. Arriving at a new school and being a foreign student created certain obstacles when it came to registration and getting assigned to classes. Having to fill out certain required papers and completing them the rest seemed to flow with ease. Entering the registration room is where we meet Wendy. Wanting to get to know more about Joseph she invites him to lunch at the cafeteria but not before he buys his textbooks, takes his first class and makes it abundantly clear that his main focus are his studies. Bright, astute and definitely into what the professor is teaching, his questions are right on target, insightful and extremely well thought out.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sometimes can be considered quite superficial. But, when one young woman tries to sell the attributes of another to Joseph his disappointed is aired, his feelings expressed as he was hoping to have a private lunch with a new friend that turned in a different direction.
Cultivating his friendship with Wendy was paramount as she enveloped him in so many different worlds. Science, art, music, world politics and more learning about her family and background explaining to him that seeing and feeling what he learns in school would help in rise in the future. Her experiences are vast and her knowledge base wide as he went further into the areas of plant species and art.
Told in the voice of the young college student we hear his thoughts, understand his changing feelings and fears as he enters Wendy’s world, meets her family and becomes accustomed to her style. But, Joseph never loses sight of his goals and when the Chairman of the Department asks to see him he has no idea, feels uneasy but soon finds out that his future is in this department and with the help of this professor and a mentor he was considered for a job as a research assistant during the summer something unheard of for a freshman student. Imagine his excitement when given a tour of this man’s research lab first and assigned a student mentor. Complimenting him on his achievements but letting him know that he needed to live up to standard, Joseph wondered if she were his mentor or mother. So, when the visit was over Joseph learned he was directly working with the head of the department had to report his progress to his student mentor and could use the departmental library for his studies.
Like all men or some men Joseph was doing well academically but began to fell stifled in other ways. Having his career and his movements channeled and monitored by so many women was overwhelming at times and confining. As we learn more about his feelings about Wendy’s friends, their backgrounds, his take on them and the friction that he encountered at times. Meeting Lisa and her boyfriend Bruce brought to light for Joseph and the reader the definition of the words prejudice and bigot. But, this would not be the last time he endured racial slurs, rejection and the feeling that he did not belong. Getting to know Wendy created mixed signals and situations throughout his first year. Asked to join her at the family home and at her talent show he learned the extent to wish a father would go to prevent his friendship from Wendy from continuing. Although he was an A student, award winner and scholar the fact that they were of two different races should not have mattered when it came to their friendship. But, sometimes people read more into things that are there and Joseph as the reader will learn is quite perceptive, analyzes each situation and decides on a solution that is not always what is best for him but for the other person. Students that escaped from South Africa enlighten him even more, others in some of his classes realize the value of his friendship and help as experiments are done in class and he receives enough college credit to become a junior after one year.
But, Wendy is special to him and no matter how hard he tries the connection is there but will never be permanent. Respecting him, valuing his knowledge she alerts him to the fact that Francesca, the cheerleader, model and her very beautiful friend needs his help in physics and then things change for Joseph even more.
The author brings to light many important issues within this novel that were not only prevalent in 1977 and 1978 but in the present too. My Last Summer with You: No fanfare for a withered rose is a story that envelops the reader from the beginning. This story takes place over 30 years ago but the storyline could bring it into the present. Joseph could be any foreign exchange student, that at the age of 17 wants to find his own way without the distraction of a social life, girl friends and withstanding the disregard at times for who he is and the disrespect of some of the other students. But, as some would rebel and take action Joseph is centered and does not take the bait when called names or rejected by a close friend. You hear both Wendy and Joseph’s thoughts in their short yet intimate notes as the story continues.
Some are taught that inter-racial friendships are wrong and parents frown upon them. Joseph put is all into his studies and his belief in God. Wendy although at times the reader feels she is truly a good friend to him we can see deeper into her character and realize that she used his kind and caring ways to better herself. With parents that did not want her to continue her friendship, listening to their demands she still could not divorce herself completely from Joseph. His personality is quite compelling. Francesca becomes his friend but to whose advantage? With his limited funds he still soars and when Francesca has trouble paying for school he rallies to her aid. Francesca enlists Joseph’s help and he pays her way in more ways than one. But, when he is invited to meet her family we realize that cultural differences do matter, prejudice rears its ugly head and very few if any accept inter-racial relationships no less marriages. When things seem to get estranged Francesca leaves for a while and returns with a modeling contract in New York. Almost tied to her apron strings and setting up the rules for their relationship to discounting it all in a heartbeat as if they are two blossoms that are slowly fading away. His life changes and his friends leave and now it is up to him to decide his future.
How this all ends you will have to read for yourself. Friendships that are strong often do not last. Life takes many unpleasant turns and then we have to recycle them in a more positive direction. An ending so raw and so heartfelt yet understandable that you have to decide for yourself what will happen next for Joseph. Friendships are valuable but when others play too strong a role then the end result will be: No Fanfare for a Withered Rose. This is one novel that college students, high school students and study groups can use to learn how young people often judge people by their color and not by what they are within or inside.