Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, 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 and death. 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.
Summer Sons seduced me with its promise of spooky times and long stretches of repressed miserable queer longings and subsequently hooked me—line and sinker—with the clarity of its prose, the gorgeous character work, and the musings on vampiric love and inheritance and masculinity and all the bleak many-faceted enormities of grief. I felt, moreover, compelled by the delicious and increasingly fraught tensions crisscrossing the cast of characters. The slow-burn is real, and I lived for it.
More important, this book hugely impressed me with its deliberate indictment of the racism baked into academic structures, an aspect that is too-often conveniently omitted by writers dabbling in the "dark academia" sub-genre. Mandelo doesn't flinch away from pointing out how their (white) characters thoughtlessly perpetuate the problem, through horrifically powerful gullibility or just callous apathy. There's a particular thematic note in this book that still has my stomach roiling with angry acids: as a queer person of color, you really cannot rely on your white queer peers to understand the shape of your chafing and grappling against institutionalized racism, no matter how well-intentioned they are/claim to be. Being queer does not make our experiences navigating the wide world similar or even equal. I've had interactions with white queers to whom this concept remains utterly ungraspable, and this book validates that helpless frustration. West's story got into me in a way that very few things ever have. I mean, you KNOW a book has struck deep chords in you when the words burst out of you in a faintly coherent voice note sent to a dear friend because you are angry and you want to be angry with someone who will understand, in a marrow-deep way, the shape of your anger.
That said, I found the mystery a bit predictable and the plot, which involves a lot of dangling threads and dead ends, plods along for the first half of the book and the pace soon lapses into a repetitive, episodic rhythm. In hindsight, this aimlessness is somewhat justified—Andrew, our protagonist, is devastatingly, explosively lost. Grief, formless and rampant, is pounding at him at every turn until he can hardly feel his own edges, and that protracted process of grieving is central to the novel. It takes some work to get used to, but it's worth it. If you're more keen on character-driven stories, like I am, rest assured that this will not put a permanent dent in your enjoyment of this book.
All in all, Summer Sons is a lovely book and an impressive debut from an author I'm definitely keeping an eye on!
I am convinced that Lee Mandelo purposely made up words in this book because let tell you, the amount of times I had to look up and use the dictionary....let's just say that Merriam Webster and I became well acquainted after this. Also not me thinking this was YA at first when I started it....it IS VERY ADULT:)
But this fucking book!!!!! I know that I am now infuckingLOVE with slow burn books; equivalent to a rollercoaster about to crest that first giant drop to rushing anticipation and that yummy gummy feeling you get when it does. Burn me please, I AM IN LOOOVVVVEEE.
I don't think I've ever read anything quite as grieving with a side of serotonin as this book, also served with a side of ✨depression✨. This one had really great themes exploring generational wealth, masculinity, internalized homophobia, identity, ghosts, familial curses, true friendships, and kinship. L O V E D I T.
I'm giving this a 4.5 (rounding a to a five) BUT I just know that ending could have benefited to even just ONE EXTRA PAGE. (The ending to me felt so rush compared to the rest of the book like I was thisfuckingclose to being satisfied!!)
Writing: EXQUISITE Story: BRILLIANT Characters: FUCJKED UP AND AMAZING
But The Boys? LOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVE
This book also has the strongest resemblance to The Raven Boys (but if Noah was the main character) which was so reminiscent and beautiful; this whole book was damn quotable honestly.
My new favorite. Excuse me as I make this book my brand and force everyone to read it.
Andrew and Eddie were best friends once, closer than brothers. Their level of attachment went above and beyond what you would even expect of the closest of friends.
When Eddie left Andrew behind to begin his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it was a tough transition. At least from Andrew's perspective.
Six months later, just before Andrew was getting ready to join Eddie in Nashville, Andrew receives news that Eddie has died, an apparent suicide.
Now Andrew has inherited Eddie's house, complete with a roommate he doesn't know, or necessarily want. Andrew is also left with the haunting suspicion that Eddie's death isn't as cut and dry as the authorities are trying to make it out to be.
As Andrew begins to settle into the Nashville house, becoming involved in Eddie's University studies and his friend group, he learns there was a whole side to Eddie he didn't know.
Street racing, hot boys, late nights, hard drugs, ominous topics of study and dark family secrets; Andrew doesn't understand how all of this could have been going on with Eddie without him knowing it.
The deeper Andrew gets into Eddie's secrets, the more out of control he feels. Not helping matters is the strange presence haunting him, wanting to possess him.
Summer Sons is a Queer Southern Gothic incorporating a cut-throat academic setting with the dangerous and exciting world of street racing. With this description in mind, this should have been a great fit for my tastes.
I did get some of the Southern Gothic vibes I was hoping for, as well as a desirable level of angst and grief. I also got a touch of academic atmosphere. Unfortunately, I also got bored and confused.
I did end up listening to the audiobook, which I actually feel is the only way I was able to get through it. I may have given up otherwise.
The narrator was fantastic. I loved how he had the accent to fit the story; that's always a plus for me. I definitely recommend if you are interested in checking this one out, that you give the audiobook a go.
Overall, I think this just wasn't the story for me. The writing is strong, and I can get behind the ideas that set the foundation of the story, but the execution fell flat for me.
I know a lot of Readers are going to absolutely adore this story, however, you can tell that already by the reviews!
Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.
I am glad I gave this one a shot and look forward to seeing what else Mandelo comes up with in the future.
definitely going to be in the minority with my feelings on this one, but i didnt click with the story.
and its due to a combination of finding the writing to be dense and repetitive, not caring about the multiple wannabe fast and furious street races, and not liking the characters. the characters being the main culprit.
i personally have a really difficult time reading about self-destructive people, especially when they remain stagnant in their destructiveness and dont go through any sort of development (a little revelation at the end doesnt count). obviously andrew is grieving and going through it, very lost to the world, but i struggled to empathise with him, his situation, and those he chose to surround himself with.
i will say the concept of a re-coming of age story is really interesting and something i dont think ive read before. the characters are graduate students, already past the moment they come into adulthood, but the circumstances for many of them prompt them to experience those feelings again. i just wish there has been more character development to really drive home this point.
overall, not the worst book ive read, but just not something i could personally connect with.
Bouncing back and forth between the audio and the paperback, SUMMER SONS had me captivated from nearly the first page. Mark my words, Lee Mandelo is an author to watch!
Andrew is buckling under the loss of his friend's suicide, but Eddie was more than just a friend. Surviving a traumatic event together has bonded these two and not just emotionally. Their experience has attached something to them...something not of this world. As Andrew comes to Nashville to attend graduate school, where Eddie went and to move into a house where Eddie lived, Andrew is determined to solve the mystery of Eddie's death. Eddie would never commit suicide, and Andrew knows it. As he slips into Eddie's old life, attends Eddie's classes, drives Eddie's car, something is hanging over Andrew, something hungry. Will Andrew solve the mystery? Who killed Eddie? How and why? Will Andrew survive his demons and discover the truth? You'll have to read this to find out!
SUMMER SONS had some characters I really hated. I hated almost all of them at first, to be honest. Andrew's grief spoke to me though and he slowly won me over. His girlfriend-soon to be ex got on my nerves too, but then later on, my feelings for her changed as well. Andrew himself, perhaps confused about his feelings, perhaps confused about his sexuality, is so human, with all of the confusion, doubt and wonder that being human encompasses. All of the characters in this book are on the move, morphing from this to that, it was a wonder to behold.
The intensity of this story cannot be overestimated. I felt like, when I was reading AND listening, that there was a dark pall hanging over...well, nearly everyone. The atmosphere I felt was almost suffocating, it was so dense. As the staff at the university became more and more petty, my thoughts about them were constantly in flux, leaving me floating out there by the finest of threads- trying to figure out what was happening.
Introduce into all of the above, a nasty little family curse/secret-one of those that goes on for generation after generation. (This portion put me in mind of The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. She knew all about those generational family secrets, just ask Lasher.) I can honestly say that I enjoyed this book much more than that one, and I liked that book a LOT.
Finally, there was some racing here...automobile racing. It's not a large portion of the book, but it's there. I would have preferred if all the cars were American, but otherwise, I was okay with it. We are talking about the American south, and racing is a part of life there. Not sure there are many Subarus but it was a way for the characters to bond, so... necessary to the story.
A quick note about the narrator, Will Damron. What an excellent narrator he is! Voicing what turned into a super dark story, he was up to the challenge, helping to create that suffocating atmosphere with his mastery of the narrative. Color me impressed!
Lee Mandelo has really knocked my socks off here. For a debut novel, I could not be more pleased. SUMMER SONS gets all the stars!
*Thanks to Macmillan for the audio and Tordotcom for the paper ARC in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*
I’ve been on a bit of a gothic kick lately, so when Summer Sons showed up on my doorstep I was very intrigued. Sudden deaths, southern estates and something supernatural lurking nearby sounded like the perfect combination for a book to me.
This was a different kind of ghost story, where it’s not a place that’s haunted but people. After his best friend Eddie’s death, Andrew shows up at the school they were supposed to attend together, in the house they were supposed to live in, hoping for answers. Though he thought he knew Eddie better than anyone, there’s a lot about him that Andrew has not been aware of until after his death. And the very trauma from their shared childhood that Andrew has done his best to avoid completely seems to be what Eddie had been fixated on leading up to his death. Now Andrew’s going to have to decide what he wants more: to understand his best friend or to potentially be consumed by the same demons that took Eddie away.
Summer Sons was the definition of a slow-burn for me. There’s a lot of creeping and unsettling circumstances that build on each other gradually, until you feel like you’re almost suffocated by them. I think, like with most horror books, the most terrifying things are the unknown. Lee Mandelo does a good job slowly dribbling out information to the reader, so even when it feels like there isn’t much happening you’re still compelled to keep going. Peel back another layer and see what’s festering underneath.
I will say this is a book you have to read actively, not a mindless romp that’s mostly ~vibes~. Maybe I’m outing myself as a dumdum, but I definitely had to Google some words along the way, as well as reread passages I may have not fully absorbed the first time through. So if you’re looking for something that you can inhale in a couple of hours, maybe wait to pick up this one until you have the time and attention span to truly appreciate how great the writing is.
Because underneath the meticulous pacing and the haunted ambiance is a kind of re-coming of age story. The characters are all grad students or older, and this is definitely a book for adults, but there’s a level of discovery and rediscovery present that feel similar to that kind of genre. The explorations of sexuality and identity are particularly well done and I appreciated how candid the storytelling was in this respect.
And like all good gothic books, there’s a larger commentary on life and death, but wrapped up in the idea of legacy. The legacy of a place, of people and families, and also of our own individual legacies. It’s the struggle between what we leave behind and being left behind. I don’t know, it’s been over a week and I’m still mulling it over myself. Still, I can’t wait to see more from Mandelo in the future, even if they insist on forcing me to use more of my brain cells than I’m used to.
Fantasy. Horror. Action. Coming of age. Mystery. How can a book literally be such a genre-bending whirlwind of a story?! First and foremost, this book is not for everybody and I don't think the author was meaning to write a story for everybody.
The story focuses on two friends—Andrew and Eddie. Best friends for years with an inexplicable bond, until Eddie moved away to start his graduate program. Andrew eventually decides to uproot his life and go join him, but before that could happen, Eddie commits suicide. In his apparent death, Eddie leaves Andrew his inheritance, a house, and a mystery surrounding what happened. As Andrew tries to uncover the truth, he begins to form suspicions around Eddie's circle of friends and their unique behaviors. Andrew dives into a world of betrayal, fast cars, sex, and hard drugs—a world Andrew wasn't prepared for. Has Andrew really accepted what it means for Eddie to be dead?
This story is full of unlikable characters and dark slow burn suspense. Again, this haunting book may not be for everybody. The story dives deep into the emotions of grief and loss, the feelings of denial, and the pain of losing someone you weren't ready to let go of just yet. The story is queer at its core, but it is mainly a secondary plot point to the themes I mentioned previously. If you're unsure about the horror elements of this novel, don't be deterred as it's not gruesomely scary, but more of a gothic suspense. I can't wait to see what comes out of Lee Mandelo's future stories.
first of all, whoever said this book is dark academia.. you’re a liar anyways. i felt like this book had a lot less gothic vibes than i expected? also i feel like the street racing and drugs felt very random for this book. it felt more like a coming of age book with horror elements instead of just a horror book, you know? also this book was very repetitive and if you know me, you know i hateee repetition.
The f*cked-upness of All for the game (remember Andrew Minyard!!) meets the darkness of These Violent Delights (Micah Nemerever). Add horror elements, and Summer Sons is born.
I don’t particularly like horror or gothic stories, but I have a soft spot for sad and dark ones, especially when the characters are self-destructive and twisted. I bought Summer Sons as a comfort read after I found out that the release date of my most anticipated book this year had been pushed back a week. And one of my GR friends said: “comfort read???” They were right, Summer Sons is discomforting and messy and chilling and depressing. And it’s also beautifully written and tense and raw and so incredibly addictive!
From the very first page, Andrew’s grief seeped through the book. I could feel the heat, the dampness, heard the cicadas shrieking, and Andrew’s sadness penetrated deep into my bones. The pacing is on the slower side, yet the story almost felt feverish because of the uneasiness, the descriptive writing, and an increasingly palpable (sexual) tension.
I believe this book is not for everyone. Unlikable characters? Check. Drug use almost every day? Check. Car racing when high and drunk? Check, check, and double-check. Furthermore, Lee Mandelo used quite a few words I’m not used to. This could stop readers from reading the story while it only made the book more appealing to me. Besides, so many topics were covered between the lines: from toxic masculinity to white supremacy to finding your identity. Lee Mandelo has blown me away with their intense and powerful story, and I can’t wait to read their next novel!
i don't know how a book could be simultaneously haunting and comforting, but WHEW this is it. it's spooky and warm and specific to the upper south in ways that plucked every single one of my heartstrings. it's pitched as The Fast and The Furious but make it southern gothic, and that's the lord's own truth. get it, yall.
I do plan on returning to this one, mainly when I have the patience to read about toxic masculinity at its finest since this book is a bit too good at writing that, ha. This story is the embodiment of "why have emotions when you can drive fast cars", and at the moment I'm just not in the mood to do anything other than eye-roll at that. I got 140 pages in - good writing, could've maybe done with a bit more of the paranormal ghostly intrigue to keep me reading (since the main character actively avoids a lot of things), but for now I'll return when not feeling slumpy with it.
Unfortunately, I have to stand on the other side of all of the positive reviews for Summer Sons and say that this book just did not do it for me- at all. At no point during the entire novel did I feel engaged.
While this one probably has more bloody fights, MDMA, fat blunts, fast cars, and cum-covered jeans than your average Saturday night- I promise you, it still manages to be far less stimulating.
It’s billed as a southern gothic queer horror. There are queer characters, revenants/ghosts, and it does take place in the South. All of those things convinced me to request an advanced reader’s copy… “Sounds right up my alley,” I thought. Alas, It was not meant to be- this book and I.
First off, I would NOT qualify this as a horror novel. There really was not anything scary about it… even the tone felt more melodramatic than sinister or creepy. The characters (yes, they were indeed queer) all left me cold. Not a single one of them interested me and I did not care AT ALL about the plot. I made it through the full 10+ hours of this audiobook without caring once about anyone or anything that was happening in it.
The pace was glacial, there was far too much focus on academics (honestly?), and the story was bogged down by endless conversations surrounding the death of a character by some verrry whiny/3M0Ti0N4L people who, again, failed to interest me in any sense of the word. Banal things had too much detail, the story felt overdramatic despite nothing happening, and the horror and thriller elements were incredibly understated.
All of that being said, I think the narrator did a good job. I would listen to him again, if it were a novel by a different author.
Also, I’d like to add that while I failed to put anything positive in this review (I promise, I tried- I really couldn’t think of anything), it still is a 2-star read, rather than a 1-star for me. You will notice the frequent use of over- & under- prefixes in this review, as my main gripe is that nothing hit the right balance for me to be able to enjoy it. I am sure there will be plenty of others that will enjoy this one, I was just B.O.R.E.D.
*I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
3 ½ stars (rounded up because it's all about the vibes)
Summer Sons is very much a vibes-driven novel that would not exist without Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves. From the aesthetics permeating the story to the combative & codependent character dynamics, Summer Sons share a lot of similarities with that book. Lee Mandelo’s older cast of characters however allow for them to employ an edgier tone, one that at times reminded me a bit of Leigh Bardugo'sNinth House (both mcs have spend most of their respective narratives chasing paranormal shit, to the detriment of their academic, getting repeatedly emotionally and physically bruised and pissing off ppl left and right). The first time I approach Summer Sons I ended up dnfing it. While I do agree with some of my initial criticisms I think this second time around I was able to just ignore the few bumps along the way and just let Summer Sons take me for a ride.
Written in snappy prose Summer Sons follows Andrew, who is in his early twenties and is about to begin a graduate program at Vanderbilt where he will be joining his best friend and (adopted) brother Eddie. Their bond is very much of the codependent variety, as the two were irrevocably bound together by a traumatizing childhood experience that has left them with, in the case of Andrew, some unwanted abilities. But then, just before their long-awaited reunion, Eddie commits suicide leaving behind a grief-stricken and confused Andrew. Eddie left everything to him, including a ridiculous amount of money and a house in Nashville (roommate included). Andrew moves there, but he couldn’t really care less about his studies. He is determined to find out what happened to Eddie. He is immediately suspicious of and antagonistic towards Eddie’s former roommate, Riley, and his cousin, Sam. Andrew is jealous of the time they spent with Eddie and is reluctant to reveal anything about his past or his intentions to them.
The first half of the novel has very little if no plot going on. I mean, things are happening but they mostly consist of Andrew feeling unwell, hitting someone, getting hit, getting drunk, getting high, ignoring his uni inbox, and making wild speculations about what happened to Eddie. He does have a few meetings with his advisor and tutor, but for the majority of the first half of the novel it’s more about the very charged dynamics between Andrew and Sam, and to a lesser extent, Andrew and Riley. There is a party or two, some drag races, and buckets of toxic masculinity. The chemistry between the various characters more than makes up for the lack of, shall we say, plot. The author also explores Andrew’s very intense relationship with Eddy, capturing the duo’s power dynamics. I appreciated how thorny Andrew is. He is so careless about his own well-being that he engages in some pretty self-destructive behaviours. He is also repressed af, and struggles to reconcile himself with the possibility that his love for Eddy may have not been strictly platonic. And of course, his attraction to Sam complicates matters. And yeah, there was something about them that definitely reminded me of Ronan & Kavinsky, except not quite as messed up, as here both Andrew and Sam embody what I can best describe as an exceedingly Ronan-esque chaotic energy. I liked the realistic way Andrew responds to the queerness of this group of friends, and that it takes him time to truly allow himself the possibility of being attracted to men. To exacerbate his alienation are recurring nightmarish visions of death and rot. Eddie’s phantom is stalking him, resulting in periods of dangerous dissociation. Riley and Sam claim they want to help but Andrew. being the hard-ass he is, is not so sure about letting anyone in. The latter half of the novel has more to do with his amateurish sleuthing, as Andrew is forced to confront the likely possibility that what occurred to him and Eddie as children has something to do with Eddie’s death. We have old family curses and blood rituals, eerie visions, and disturbing occurrences. Additionally, Mandelo dedicates time to critiquing how insular colleges are as well as the elitism and racism that pervade the academic world. I liked the uneasy relationships the characters have with one another, and that Mandelo holds their main characters accountable for their past and present actions without writing them off as ‘bad’.
There were a few things that I wish could have developed differently. The paranormal element had potential but was implemented in an inconsistent and in some places sparse way that ultimately does it a disservice. I liked how it remains largely ambiguous but it could have been amped up in quite a few instances. Also, in the scenes where this paranormal element comes to the fore the descriptions could have been more vivid. It would have been nice to learn more about haunts/revenants or other spooky occurrences that Andrew & Eddie may have experienced after ‘it’ happened. Similarly, it would also have been nice to have more of a background about their childhood and teenage years (their relationship with Andrew’s parents, their high school days, etc..). We know about their tattoo and their ‘shared’ gf (who thankfully speaks up about being used and tossed aside like a toy) but very little about anything else. In some ways it makes sense since they were each other’s worlds, so everything else would barely register, however the complete lack of presence of Andrew's parents was felt. The resolution to Eddie’s death was too derivative, especially within the urban fantasy genre. She who shall not be named did that a few times in her series. Maggie Stiefvater subverts this trope by making readers, but not our main characters, aware of who the ‘antagonists’ are. Barudgo also does it in Ninth House, but in a far more twisty way than Mandelo. Here instead that finale seemed vaguely formulaic and entirely too predictable. That the ‘villains’ lacked a certain ‘oomph’ factor also made that last action rather lacklustre. I do think that at the end Andrew gets a bit too much of the blame for how things went down with the villain. The boy is an asshole sure. But he was just trying to find out the truth and how could he have possibly predicted that things would go down that way?!
The writing had a certain fanfiction-y quality but I found myself really enjoying it (so we have a lot of growling, flashing teeth, dangerous expressions, an overuse of ‘the boy’ instead of the characters’ names). The prose was snappy and intentionally edgy which makes for highly engrossing storytelling. I do wish that the author had reigned in on the more anatomical descriptions of his characters. There are whole paragraphs dedicated to describing whose leg is on whose ankle or how someone’s hand is dangling or touching somebody else's body part). Yeah, in a way these add a certain sensual element that makes these scenes really pop, but there were moments where they ended up sidelining the actual storyline or drawing attention from the dialogue. There were also way too many random highfalutin words dropped in for no reason (such as 'cadre') and they had the same energy as me during my first year as an undergraduate student using archaic terms for no reason other than to make what I was writing sound clever (but i just ended up with some seriously jarring phrases).
Despite these criticisms, I did like Summer Sons. Andrew is a tortured and somewhat impenetrable character that is equal parts frustrating and lovable. Mandelo articulates Andrew’s inner conflict without resorting to cliches or moralisms. The interactions between the characters seamlessly alternate from being funny and entertaining banter to more heated and tense confrontations. The friendships and the romance we see develop between Andrew and others really make the book. I loved how the author is able to dedicate a lot of page time to Andrew’s unresolved and complicated relationship with his sexuality but also present us with some very casual lgbtq+ rep (we have a trans character, a positive portrayal of polyamory, and a character who uses they/them pronouns makes has a cameo appearance). The pining and sexual tension between Andrew and Sam were *chief’s kiss*.
I’d love to read more by this author (maybe something with wlw characters…? or just more girls in general cause i don’t think this book would pass the bechdel test test..at least in trc we have the women of 300 fox way). If you like spooky summer ya novels, like Beware the Wild, The Wicker King, Wonders of the Invisible World, or the gritty aesthetics of urban fantasy series like Holly Black's The Modern Faerie Tales, Summer Sons should definitely make it onto your tbr pile. I look forward to whatever Mandelo publishes next and I can definitely see myself re-reading Summer Sons.
ps: i did think it would have been nice for mandelo to mention in their acknowledgements stiefvater as her series clearly inspired this book.
You know that iconic meme of Lady Gaga where she goes "Talented. Brilliant. Incredible. Amazing. Showstopping. Spectacular. Never the same. Totally unique."? that is me with Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo.
My favorite blogger Emma @ Emma Reads Too Much writes in her review of The Secret History:"Here is the problem with reviewing every book I read: Sometimes I throw around terms before I really need them, and then once I read THE book, The Story that requires and deserves that descriptor, I have nothing to give it.
Right now I have this problem. Because I have used the word “immersive” before, and immediately upon my completion of this book it became clear that I should have saved it for right now."
This is the exact feeling I have about Summer Sons. 'Brilliant', 'Incredible', 'Amazing', 'Showstopping', 'Spectacular' - these are all perfect identifiers I have used to describe the books I've read in the past, but I feel are now more deserving of this book. Summer freaking Sons.
I still don't have the adequate words to talk about this book. I can break it down to its barest elements: this book is about the intimacy of male friendships and queerness and realizing that you're queer as an adult and horror and academia and the grief of losing your loved ones and the manifestation of that grief in the form of a haunting etc., etc., etc.,
BUT, I will still not be able to convey how Lee Mandelo wraps them all together with the most visceral writing featuring elements of deep yearning, self-loathing, homoerotic antagonism, toxic masculinity, haunting descriptions, and tense moments.
Our protagonist Andrew indulges in all kinds of self-destructive behavior in his journey to processing his best friend's death. Add to this, Andrew's glacially slow realization that might've loved Eddie in a more-than-platonic way. Eddie may have died, but he is very much present in every aspect of Andrew's life - from occupying every second of his thoughts to appearing as a literal phantom. Andrew is filled with this raw hunger and sadness that made me flinch at times while reading this book.
And on top of all of this, Mandelo adds another layer to this emotional onion by hinting that Eddie's death is not all what it seems in the beginning and there might be foul play involved. Eddie had some sketchy acquaintances in the last few months of his life, and it doesn't help that he was researching gothic lore related to his own life and ancestry that Andrew and Eddie promised never to delve into.
I honestly have so much more to praise about this book and the way Mandelo has fleshed out each character in this book - especially Andrew's and Sam's and their character chemistry - but I lack the braincells to put them in words. Is sensual tension a thing? thats what this book is! this book is 400 pages of sensual tension! and that's all you need to know before getting into the book! JUST! READ! THIS! BOOK!
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo is one of the best books I have read in my life, and it deserves to be appreciated by everyone in the world. 6/5 stars!
Summer Sons comes out on September 28, preorder it!!!
I won an ARC of the book from a giveaway conducted by the author on twitter.
———————————————————————————— UPDATE: the review might be coming sooner than usual, folks. 👀 your reminder to preorder this book! ———————————————————————————— 6/5 stars BEST BOOK EVER, EVERYONE READ IT!
will I write a review for this before the release date? stay tuned to find out.
This is a book that has curses, friendships, secrets, drugs, sex, murder, and hope. This book will keep you turning pages, asking questions, looking out your window, and under your bed. This book will make you cherish your friends, ask more questions, and love harder.
Two best friends, Andrew and Eddie, friends since childhood but one is keeping a secret. Separate for six short months but soon to be back with each other. Then Andrew is told Eddie killed himself. Andrew doesn't believe it. He comes to find out what happened. But something is waiting for him.
Paranormal, evil in the shape of humans and inhuman form is something Andrew has to confront to find answers. He has to walk in Eddie's steps to find out who or what Eddie encountered. What he doesn't know is they are already waiting for Andrew. Good and creepy. I want to thank the publisher and NetGalley for letting me read this book.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Yeesh, sometimes giving an honest review is hard for me... when I just didn't like a book. I feel bad, because authors put their soul, their blood, their sweat, their tears into their work, and I hate feeling like I'm somehow diminishing them by giving a low rating.
Alas, I didn't enjoy this one. The characters weren't likable, even in the least. The story was slow, the pacing was off, and I just was bored for most of it. It hooked me at the beginning, but that hook was pulled out and left bleeding for the majority of the rest of the book as Andrew makes bad decision after bad decision, uses drugs, races cars, gets angry, treats his friend like garbage, and just screws everything up royally.
It definitely has a Gothic atmosphere that was rather enjoyable, and I really wanted to like it, especially with the LGBTQIA+ tags, but it just felt... meh.
I didn't like Andrew, I didn't like Eddie from what we learn of him, I didn't like the roommates. Heck I didn't like any of them.
Overall, I just felt like this was a time sink that I shouldn't have invested my valuable reading time in, and I absolutely abhor saying that out loud.
CWs: death and grief; mentions of suicide and self-harm; blood, gore, vomit, graphic injury, and graphic violence; drug use and inebriated driving; some homophobic slurs; brief reference to child abuse; and some graphic sexual content
I feel like I was destined to love Summer Sons, because it's a southern gothic take on dark academia with a side helping of queer ghosts. On the surface, this book has been pitched as "The Secret History" meets "Fast and the Furious," which is accurate to some extent, but in all reality, this story is a profound and visceral exploration of toxic masculinity and the inherent violent tradition of whiteness.
Dark academia, as a subgenre, is aimed at exploring the corrupt underbelly of academic institutions, privilege, and excessive wealth. When we're considering dark academia stories set in the U.S., that disproportionate privilege and power is inherently tied to whiteness, and yet few dark academia stories truly dive head-first into exploring the implications of that intrinsic connection. Summer Sons stands apart in that it throws the reader right into the middle of this messy, chaotic, traumatized, reckless group of characters and names their toxicity for what it truly is. And though it doesn't much reckon with the reality that generational wealth and privilege—particularly that kind sanctioned by and tied to the institution of academia—is built off of the suffering and labor of marginalized communities, that fact is addressed in the story, which is also really important and something that many dark academia books fail to do.
Toxic masculinity is, at is core, a perpetuation of loneliness, isolation, emotional illiteracy, distance, avoidance, disassociation, and detachment. Not only are these ideals and practices preserved in the tradition of whiteness, but they are bartered by men and masculine-identifying people in exchange for access to masculine power and masculine spaces. By that understanding, it's clear to see that toxic masculinity might manifest in very specific ways within queer men, and most dangerously in white queer men, who can levy their relative marginalization as a justification for perpetuating toxicity, harm, and even violence.
Summer Sons examines how toxic masculinity has infected these characters, to the point of literally haunting and possessing some of them, and the plot pushes them to the breaking point in order to see just how far they're willing to go in order to avoid their unresolved traumas. In this book, the ghosts or spirits are referred to as "revenants," spiritual entities that feed off of violence and blood in order to gain power. As the revenants lurk on the periphery of Andrew's consciousness, it's clear to see that they represent the dangerous hold trauma has on his life. As they gain power and begin to claim more of his body, energy, agency, and awareness, he becomes more and more terrified, simply because ceding control—in any measure, or any sense—is a white man's worst nightmare.
At its core, this story really interrogates the willful assimilation into toxic masculinity in hopes of gaining acceptance. Even though Andrew is essentially being haunted by his not-quite-friend/not-quite-lover to the point where everyone around him *knows* it, he still goes to great lengths to hide it and to avoid drawing attention to it. Not only is this indicative of his internalized homophobia that he's wielding against himself, but it speaks to how men and masculine-identifying people have internalized the message that asking for help is equivalent to weakness. And it also speaks to a larger phenomenon of isolation that is created and upheld by white masculinity. Whiteness itself, in America, is not a culture. It is not a heritage. It is not a unifying identity that is conducive to community. And that lack of community is the true weakness that keeps men isolated.
In the words of Alok Vaid-Menon: "[This] is the collateral that men are told [to pay]. 'Keep quiet. Don't sensitize yourself to anything. Shut up. Don't have any personality beyond what is marketed to you. Don't display any vulnerability, and you're going to get power.' But that kind of power is loneliness...White cis straight men don't have community. They have hyper-isolation and they have hyper-disassociation that they mistake as personality. In relinquishing that false project of power, [people] are allowed to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is the basis of community."
That conflict is a huge part of what makes this story so fascinating, because there's an irony to how Andrew suddenly finds himself in what would seem like a community of Eddie's university friends who have an established dynamic and rapport, and yet he is more alone than ever. And yet he insists on separating him further and making himself *be* alone so that he doesn't have to relinquish any power by coming off as "strange" or "weak." It's an intimate look at how he is intentionally and willfully hurting himself just so that doesn't put a target on his back and lose his place within this friend group. He's only able to start making any progress, emotionally and logistically, once he starts opening up and actually giving the people around him chances to see what he's really dealing with and who he really is.
And as with most ghost stories, Summer Sons is really about trying to find some semblance of peace, a way to satiate the revenants and be rid of them, which is a really powerful message when you look at it through this metaphorical lens of revenants representing trauma, toxicity, abuse, and violence. It's a story that centers a character who is essentially saying, "I will not let this control my life. I have to let go of the things that are hurting me if I want to survive. I know there is a better way to live than this." That idea is tied together with the connection between revenants and the unresolved mystery of what truly happened to Eddie, and I think the story is even more memorable for it.
I think it's also interesting how the story is able to explore the underside of toxic masculinity by really reveling in the dark, deep, complicated emotions that Andrew keeps hidden away. The irony is that he is a deeply emotional person grappling with grief, love, internalized homophobia, fear, and uncertainty, even though he goes to great lengths to repress those things. The angst, the posthumous yearning, the slow-burn homoerotic tension in this story are truly god-tier, and it's the teeming richness of this hidden emotional landscape that ultimately leads the book to a place of hopefulness in regards to masculine relationships. The connections between the characters are more authentic, honest, and open by the end of the story, and the characters are celebrated as being stronger for it, even though they may still have a ways to grow.
The one thing that kept this from being a five-star book for me, personally, was the pace of the plot and the development of the mystery itself. This story is extremely aesthetic and compelling, but it feels, at times, like the mystery element gets lost or forgotten. Just over the halfway mark, I realized that while I was completely invested, I hadn't learned anything more about Eddie's death that I couldn't already gather myself from the synopsis or from the first twenty pages. It takes a very long time for Andrew to make any significant progress in figuring out this mystery, which is the center of the story, and that made me question where the story was going at times.
I also struggled a little bit with the world-building elements, because the origins of the revenants aren't revealed until almost the end of the book, and I think the story could have benefited from exploring that earlier. It was also a bit difficult for me to grasp the mechanics of the revenants—what triggers them, how to break their hold, what they want, the limits of what they're able to do, etc. By the end, I had a much better (if still imperfect) grasp on the dynamic between humans and revenants, but again it took a long time to get there.
But those two things were not huge deal-breakers for me, and I can still say with certainty that this is going to be a story that stands out to me when I look back on my reading in 2021. It's dark, it's twisted, it's angsty, and the fact remains that it is not one to be missed.
Thank you Tor Books for the free review copy. Also, big thanks to the Night Worms for being awesome reading / review buddies!
SUMMER SONS is a fresh take on Southern gothic suspense that mixes an ample amount of genres, including supernatural horror, fantasy, coming of age, mystery, all combined with a few action-packed scenes. It’s a story of ghosts, grief, and friendship, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.
Andrew and Eddie had a bond greater than if they were brothers. Eddie went off to graduate school in Nashville, and Andrew wasn’t far behind. But when Eddie was found dead, an apparent suicide, Andrew is devastated. He just doesn’t believe his best friend would kill himself. Even more curious, Eddie left Andrew everything in his wake. He inherits his house, money, friends, the mystery of his death, and a few hauntings.
SUMMER SONS has queer characters, drugs, fast cars, plenty of suspicion, secrets, and even possession. The pacing slows down a bit in the middle and may feel overly detailed, but that didn’t slow me down one bit. The heart of the story is about facing past trauma and dealing with intense loss. Andrew is not only haunted by Eddie’s death, he is haunted by his life. I highly recommend you add this one to your fall reading list.
A true Southern gothic, but there’s nothing arch or fusty about it—this is a wild, raw, visceral ride from start to finish. I’m a sucker for stories with a foundation of loss, and too-late realisations, and the haunting of possibilities that could never be, and this delivered in spades. Also: Sam. That is all.
In the Southern Gothic Summer Sons, Andrew Blur is moving to Nashville after his friend and adoptive brother, Eddie Fulton, has committed suicide. Eddie has left Andrew a vast inheritance, not only including wealth, but also a position in the Vanderbilt University graduate program (I didn't even know you could do that). However, since Eddie's death, Andrew has been haunted by a malevolent ghost that drains his emotions, strength, and vitality. The ghost is some form of Eddie that is more possessive and dangerous--or was Eddie always like that? Joined by Eddie's roommate Riley, and Riley's jovial cousin Sam, Andrew tries to figure out what happened Eddie, for the boy he knew and repressed his love for could not have ended his own life. But the journey to the truth may cost Andrew more than he already has.
Summer Sons is a look at Southern masculinity, particularly through the perspective of a white queer man. All of the characters in the book, no just the men, are affected by masculinity, both healthy and toxic (but mostly toxic) in various ways. Andrew is constantly suppressing his emotions and his desire to reach out for help and any time he has a volatile outburst, the ghost returns to feed upon him. It hurt to watch Andrew be constantly assailed by the ghost; I wanted him to break free and ask for help and it made me, and Andrew himself, question who Eddie really was to him. Throughout the book in general, many of the queer men in general cannot show their affections to one another, both platonic and romantic, because of their setting. This creates massive isolation and strains their ability to speak with another; it mostly affects Andrew.
Most of the characters are fleshed out and their interactions with each other and character arcs reflects how they have had to navigate Southern masculinity and its affects in their lives. Andrew is shown the most progress because this is his journey. However, Sam was probably the next best after Andrew. He is Riley's cousin and is also queer, but he is still probably the most masculine character in the entire book (I believe the term for this in the LGBT+ community is "masc"?). He loves his cousin and definitely has an aggressive side and does have his own shell he resides in, but he is also surprisingly the most expressive and happiest character in the book. I loved the development between him and Andrew and how they bounced off one another.
One character who did suffer a bit though was Del. Del, Delilah, was a friend and former sexual partner of Andrew and Eddie's, though she was able to see what Andrew didn't see or refused to see. She is also a bit more masculine than most girls which was one of the reasons she initially befriended Andrew and Eddie. However, Andrew and Eddie's relationship with her was clearly an objectifying one, something the book points out. Del was often very upset in the book, often with Andrew, and it was almost her entire personality. She does change a little after a come-to-heart moment with Andrew. Del isn't a terrible character, and I understand Lee Mandelo's point with her: she is someone who is affected by the fallout of toxic masculinity forcing two young men to hide their feelings for one another. However, I do wish her personality was bit more than that.
Summer Sons also touches upon how the history of Southern academic institutions and wealth families were built upon the backs of racial minorities. This is only briefly touched upon when it explains where the wealth of Eddie's ancestors came from, but describes it enough to realize how fundamental it is in the setting and doesn't beat us over the head. West, another character, is a young Black man who is also affected by this history as he constantly denied by the university and a specific White professor for his research in favor of Eddie's research that has been transferred to Andrew. Summer Sons has a lot to talk about and I think it accomplishes these discussions well.
But the real crème de la crème of the book, is the prose! Mandelo is a master at writing. The prose is so haunting, lush, claustrophobic, and vivid that I can feel the Southern heat, the wet dew on the grass, the smell of gas form the cars, and the skin and muscular arms of all the boys here. Everything is described in rich, haunting detail from Andrew's feelings of loneliness and and bodily responses to certain actions to even the appearance of bruises and the hot, electrifying sex scene--seriously, one of the best M/M sex scenes I have ever read. It is truly a Southern Gothic prose! This prose fills Andrew's thoughts, senses, and emotions and shows us what he's truly feeling within each moment of every sentence of every page.
I was very satisfied with Summer Sons. From the progression of the narrative--which started off slow, but then picked up--to the atmosphere and emotions that seeped through the pages form the words themselves. This is a haunting, engrossing, sad, and bittersweet story. One of repression, regrets, anger, isolation, and angst, but also of acceptance, love, and freeing oneself from what hold them down and I highly recommend it as one of the best novels I've read all year. There is one part that I'm sad about, but I will place it under spoilers.
It Mexican Gothic and Gideon the Ninth resurrected the love for the traditional Gothic genre, then Summer Sons will open the door for the Southern Gothic. I wish I could write more and do this book justice, but I've said all I've could.
In case you need more details: ghosts! speeding cars! nuanced depictions of masculinity! slow burn! grief and trauma! academia sucking a lot! gay shit! Southern gothic that puts Faulkner to shame! guys drinking beer! BONES! and all wrapped up in beautiful thoughtful writing to boot.
Honest to god if you like stuff that is gay, spooky, and really truly handsomely written, you're gonna like this a whole lot.
Review originally posted at Cemetery Dance: https://www.cemeterydance.com/extras/... 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.