Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Tor.com (July 20th, 2021)
384 pages; $22.99 paperback; $0.00 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
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.