Fast Cars, Slow Burns, and Freaky Lil Ghosts: Reading SUMMER SONS

[Pretend there’s cover art here]

The Chit-Chat: Hey, y’all! Welcome back to another episode of The Raccoon Awards, where I commune with sketchy earth spirits until I turn into a volcano and explode like Vesuvius with all of my bookish passion about books I think you should read. On today’s weather forecast, we have SUMMER SONS.

The Synopsis: Andrew and Eddie have been inseparable, ever since getting lost in the woods for 72 hours together as children. You might even say their souls are bound together. When Eddie dies of an apparent suicide and Andrew inherits his life – including a house in Nashville, a new car, a roommate who knows too much, a graduate-level program at Vanderbilt with some sketchily overreaching advisors, and an abandoned plantation – things start getting, well, weirder than usual. With Eddie’s malevolent spirit dogging his steps and Andrew grasping at straws to solve his best friend’s murder, the stakes ratchet higher. Add in college classes, a grappling with Andrew’s sexual identity, the drag racing and drug dealing underworld surrounding Andrew’s new roommate and his dominating cousin, and SUMMER SONS makes for one hell of a ride.

The Hot Takes: Listen up, y’all, I have an unusual amount of things I want to yell about SUMMER SONS so I’ma just list everything and then dive deep, ok? This book is a fucking amazing ghost story, a fucking amazing romance, a fucking amazing coming out story that I have SO MANY OPINIONS ABOUT, there’s so much vivid imagery and character development, and it has the most perfectly executed slowburn I have seen in a long time.

If I had to describe SUMMER SONS in two words, they would be “satisfying” and “realistic.” And you might be saying “girl, there are like, ghosts and supernatural things, what do you mean realistic?” Listen: it’s in the details. Cars overheating during street racing, a line about a character having bony feet, a college-aged character eating shredded cheese from a bag, body parts twisting into weird positions during sex, characters who are obnoxiously unable to communicate: it’s these tiny, tiny, little things that create an ultra-realistic reading experience I am positively obsessed with. I, of course, read an ABM (advanced bound manuscript; the version before an ARC) and things might be edited out between now and release date, but it’s seriously one of my favorite things.

It’s also really – and I mean really – satisfying for two reasons. One, Mandelo does a freakishly thorough job pulling every thread of SUMMER SONS through to the end and tying them off in one way or another. Things I had forgotten about from the beginning still came back up and were addressed. This isn’t to say everything was a picture-perfect HEA, but every issue was laid to rest more than most books do and I loved that.

Secondly, and more significantly, SUMMER SONS slowburns like the vents of hell, I stg. Full disclosure, I don’t normally like slowburn and it wasn’t my favorite when I was in the beginning of this book. I nearly DNF’ed… and then I ate my words. Every single one of them. There’s an incredibly engaging and powerful story that the “slow” part is building up to, and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as impactful without Andrew being this angry, dysfunctional mess who’s not getting a single breakthrough for a significant portion of the book. I’m legit rethinking my entire opinion on slowburns because of SUMMER SONS, y’all. The culmination of this slow, slow burn makes for an incredibly satisfying finish.

The gothic spook factor is also incredible in SUMMER SONS. I don’t want to say too much about this because I don’t want to spoil things, but I loved the dynamics the hauntings provided. The terror I felt on Andrew’s behalf as he essentially played with fire while hoping for ice sends chills down my arms, especially mixed with the pain and loss and the yearning for things to be different. The angst, the supernatural spookiness, and the unexpected malevolence form a trifecta of fear that kept me thinking about this story even when I was at work or trying to go to bed. I needed to know what would happen.

Yet SUMMER SONS isn’t just a ghost story. It’s also about Andrew grappling with his sexual identity. I again don’t want to give too much away, but I can’t write this review without yelling at the top of my lungs about how much I loved this coming out story. Almost every coming out story I see personally is this overhyped affair where a character has to change their entire personality, likes/interests, and fashion sense around because they’re queer now and if they don’t, are they really queer? While I certainly know people whose coming out story falls into that category, I personally think it’s really harmful phenomenon because it perpetuates false and arbitrary stereotypes. Who you’re attracted to doesn’t change anything about who you are in terms of tastes, behaviors, etc, other than who you’re attracted to, and the stories of “I realized I was a lesbian so I got a pixie cut and bought a leather jacket to prove it” don’t resonate with me in the slightest.

All of this is to say, Andrew’s story is not this “I decided I’m gay, so now I have 1,000 opinions about home decor and only wear pastels” story. Andrew is still the drag racing and henley wearing and cheap beer drinking southern boy he was at the beginning, he’s just also accepting his sexual orientation. I cannot emphasize enough how much I am obsessed with this and how important I think it is to have something like this being added to LGBTQ+ canon. I felt seen as a “normal” queer person. Seriously, give me 1,000 of these.

I’m also obsessed with the romantic component in SUMMER SONS because it’s realistic as hell and it builds up so slowly I was actually talking to my book going “please just fuck already.” It’s middle of the night texts going unanswered, unspoken understandings, showing up unannounced, car racing as a form of flirting, there was a specific line about the feeling of knees tucked behind his own, it’s just… gah, it’s SO GOOD, OK? And the characters involved are both such clusterfucks of issues, but it’s still so beautiful regardless. While this book isn’t a strict romance, I genuinely think most romance writers could learn a thing or ten from how the romance is written into SUMMER SONS.

And finally, another thing I love about this book is how specific sentences are sticking in my brain. This virtually never happens to me, because I book binge and I read for speed, not comprehension, right? And this part of the review is the part most likely to change between what I’ve read and final review so I won’t be listing any of these sentences here, but I’m absolutely blown away that it happened– and it wasn’t just once! I can think of at least 5 specific phrasings that I stopped and re-read over and over because I wanted to hold them in my heart.

Honestly, though, I want to hold this whole book in my heart. My slate is full of other amazing books I need to be reading, but I already want to reread SUMMER SONS. Even with all of the ends tied up, I’m not ready to let go of the characters. I’m not done with my thirstlord ships. I want a bonus fluff novella of what happens after the ending. I want more SUMMER SONS.

The Misc: This is liable to change, but in the ABM there are at least 4 off the cuff moments in the book where characters are described as being squishy, basically. Like, not fat, per say, but when they lean forward their belly gets little rolls, or if they’re seen shirtless, there’s some muffin topping going on. I usually only bring this up in my romance reviews, but the number one thing I want to see in books are a variety of body shapes, and I absolutely stopped and reread every line where a character was described as anything other than not-abs. This still isn’t the ideal body shape variety I would like to see normalized, but it is a step above 98% of the books I read, and I might have freaked out more than a little bit to see it. Arguably, this tiny, tiny detail is my very favorite part of a book that has a lot of things I really love.

Another minor thing: some of the characters in this book have ties to antebellum South, and while this isn’t a book about race and such, I really liked how it touched on the awkwardness of “this money/power came down from owning slaves and this legacy doesn’t need to be continued.” Very, very, minor thing, but a really nice touch.

On a personal note, I don’t keep 98% of the books I read, and about every 3 months I chuck huge piles of books at my poor, innocent bystander friends and family. There are a lot of friends I want to read SUMMER SONS right fucking now so I can crawl in their DMs and start screaming spoilers. I am not giving up my manuscript for anything. This is currently one of three books I own where favorite passages have been dog-eared for rereading.

The plots have virtually nothing in common, but the mechanics (pacing, plot, vibes, characters, etc) remind me a lot of THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones. If you liked that book, I can almost guarantee you’ll like this.

And I cried reading the last page.

And out of context spoiler: that deer, tho.

Does it get a star? I am incredibly proud to give a starred review to SUMMER SONS.

Can I order it? SUMMER SONS isn’t out until September; ARCs aren’t even available yet, nor has cover art been finalized, BUT IT IS AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER! Why not buy a copy from Copperfish (where I work), forget about it, and surprise your future self when it lands at your door? Click here to treat yo shelf.

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