SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo
I’m going to be very honest and say this wasn’t for me. Stories that tend to lean more heavily towards the topic of loss/grief rather than hauntings are usually not my cup of tea (looking at you, “Lisey’s Story”). I was warned that the pacing for this book was going to be slow—which is to be expected with most gothic fiction—but it moved a little TOO slow for my tastes, to the point where I kept putting this book down out of a lack of motivation to continue. However, I guarantee you I am mostly alone on my rating because many people loved this book! So, while I could probably blame my dislike of this story on simply not being in the right headspace (it had been a stressful week), that shouldn’t stop me from giving very good reasons for why this book might be for you! This is a Southern gothic horror-mystery that centers LGBTQ+ characters. The story follows a young man named Andrew who has lost his best friend Eddie—seemingly to suicide while studying at university—but Andrew believes Eddie’s death occurred under more mysterious circumstances. And those circumstances might have something to do with the supernatural. So why should you give this book a try? Well first off, you’ll be unable to resist throwing suspicion on many of the characters as the protagonist attempts to solve the mystery of his best friend’s death. Second, the spooky supernatural moments are well done. Third, the queer romantic relationships are complex and compelling. And finally, we are told this story is “The Sound and the Fury” meets “Fast and Furious”. I am not a fast cars kinda gal, so that selling point didn’t call out to me. However, If you are a lover of speedy wheels fusing with southern gothic atmosphere, why NOT pick this book up? Dark academia, suspicious side-characters, complicated queer relationships, and of course a haunting here and there. All reasons you should fit Lee Mandelo’s SUMMER SONS into your TBR when it comes out this September! (Thank you so much to the author, Night Worms, and Tor for my #NightWormsBookParty review copy!)
Summer Sons takes a long, hot, minute before it reaches down to stir up all those horror vibes simmering just under the surface.
The story centers on the relationship between Andrew and Eddie. Their seemingly indestructible bond is threatened when Eddie decides to go away for school. Ultimately, Andrew feels like he needs to be with Eddie no matter the cost but before they can reunite, Eddie takes his own life.
In classic, slow, Southern Gothic style, Mandelo plunges Andrew into the dark mystery surrounding his friend’s suicide. Part of learning what happened forces Andrew to tap into Eddie’s new scene of fast cars, wild nights, and new faces; a part of his friend’s life that developed apart from him, and it conjures up some feelings.
There’s a delicious hook within the first few chapters, and the storytelling voice is immediately appealing. Heading into the middle of the book, the story gets bogged down some. Having zero interest in cars, I skimmed all the “Fast and Furious” scenes but even still, I had trouble staying interested. The main issue is a lack of character development. Mandelo doesn’t go deep with Andrew until closer to the end and, by that time, the emotional impact doesn’t land as hard as it could have had there been that early investment. He’s not the most endearing of characters. But this isn’t to say readers won’t be able to connect emotionally because this story has the potential to tap into everyone’s personal experiences with loss, grief, and that horrible feeling of too-little-too-late.
I think it’s powerful that Mandelo crushes queer stereotypes with Summer Sons. Andrew is definitely not openly gay and some of the other queer relationships are complicated. This is an honest reflection of the queer community — love is love and this means that sometimes people fall in love with people regardless of their sexual identity or gender, which can be confusing. I’m sure readers will complain that they were expecting more clearly defined queer characters, but I actually appreciated the fluidity.
This is the perfect book to bring with you to the lake house or on a vacation where there are endless hours available to get lost in a story that is in no real hurry to leave. The haunting atmosphere coupled with Mandelo’s intimate, seductive prose will compliment anyone’s fantasy of sipping iced tea on a sweltering day with a book that gives you the chills. ~Sadie Hartmann
TW: Suicide, racism, homophobia