Summer Sons (Book Review)
by Lee Mandelo
Horror / LGBTQ+
4 / 5 Stars
I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you also to the publisher, TorDotCom, for approving me.
Summer Sons is an engrossing, genre-bending ghost story that is just as much about being haunted by regret.
Andrew and Eddie were best friends, with Andrew set to join Eddie at grad school … until Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.
As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.
This is an LBGTQ+ coming-of-age story intermingled with horror. It’s quite long, but I was enthralled the entire time because the story moves with a fluid grace with more than a touch of Southern Gothic flare. It is as much of a ghost story as it is a story about a young man coming to grips with his own sexuality and life choices.
The novel does a fabulous job showing how society can force someone to deny their sexuality. Andrew’s growing realization of how his internalized homophobia has denied him not only love but a true sense of self is very well done and quite heartbreaking. I think anyone who has had their sexuality repressed by society can understand his struggle. That being said, Andrew is incredibly unlikeable. He comes across as this rather stuck-up, too-cool-for-you dude who is so self-focused he lacks empathy for others. He is obsessed, understandably so, with his deceased friend Eddie’s suicide, but there are so many times in the novel I was like, god, man, just shut up. Also, why is he constantly littering? Seriously, he’s always throwing garbage out the window or on the ground. It drove me nuts, truthfully. The other characters weren’t as fleshed out. We only see them when they’re around Andrew, and because he’s so inwards-focused, we don’t learn a lot about them. We are left to extrapolate some things ourselves, which is fine, but the novel is very much about Andrew. Related to this, while the build-up tension towards the sex was quite well done, especially as Andrew begins to accept things about himself he denied before, I didn’t really feel their emotional attachment. We don’t often see Andrew and his intended at leisure - they’re either driving their cars fast, arguing, investigating Eddie, or on drugs; as such, I was surprised the novel put so much emphasis in the final quarter on emotions, as it felt more like just sex to me.
The supernatural elements were really well done. I wanted more of this as they were incredibly creepy and fascinating and definitely fit the horror genre. I wish some of Andrew’s story was interspersed with Eddie’s research into the curse, maybe as flashbacks or journal entries, as that would have added to the haunting elements and made it feel less like a metaphor for internalized homophobia (which I honestly thought it was for a while).
In truth, the novel could have used more ghosts and less young male angst, at least for me.
Regarding the male angst, this is definitely a novel about men, but I appreciated how the few women in the novel were treated. In some stories that feature men, women seem to disappear entirely. In this novel, it’s clear women still exist in the world as there are many background characters and some minor characters who identify as female. In fact, there is a small section dealing with the way women’s bodies are often viewed as disposable by men, and that was important to see in a story where women aren’t as present. I really appreciated how that was handled too. There is also a trans character who is not a stereotype nor is their trans identify their entire personality.
As someone who is into cars, and the original Fast & Furious was a big influence on my teenage life, I enjoyed the car racing scenes and it was one of the only areas of the story where I connected with Andrew. There are only a few races, but they are told in a rapid, entertaining way that was exciting and fun.
I’m torn about the writing style. The novel has very fluid prose, but I found it too description-heavy at times; it often slides into being verbose. The book is very long for what is ostensibly a rather light plot; the story is much more a coming-of-age/gay awakening story versus a tight mystery, so if you’re looking for something like Mexican Gothic or Rebecca, this might not be enough mystery for you. In truth, the mystery/ghost story plot is a bit too obvious to be compelling. It ties together well and makes sense, and I really liked how the ghost was handled, but I can’t say I was blown away by any aspect of it, especially the climax.
That being said, the novel is really really good. It’s very compelling, it’s a compulsive read, and I definitely enjoyed it.