b. t.'s Reviews > The Summer That Melted Everything

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany   McDaniel
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did not like it

** spoiler alert **
"There's the devil."
"He don't look like no devil to me."
"They never do."
Okay. I have a lot of unpopular opinions about this book. Heed the spoiler warning, because I am going to talk about the ending.

In the original version of this review, I buried the lede, so let me get to the point right away this time:

This is a book about racism that focuses solely on the voices and perspectives of white people. It humanizes the members of a lynch mob and all but absolves them of their sins. The one significant black character is not given half the humanity of the white supremacist villains: he is a symbol, a mystic, a saintlike figure, and while he's supposed to be 13 his dialogue sounds like it belongs in the mouth of a middle-aged theology professor. This portrayal distances him from the reality of black children that were brutalized by white oppressors throughout history -- the black children that, as recently as this year, have been murdered in cold blood only for their killers to be allowed to walk away without punishment.

It left a horrible taste in my mouth. But let me rewind.

A Summary:

Little black boy shows up in a bigoted white town. A combination of factors leads to racial tensions boiling up over the course of one disastrous summer. Tragedy ensues.

This book could have been so good. It's about devils who wear ordinary faces, who might even look like friends. It's about people scapegoating easy targets -- outsiders, loners, or those who fit into their preconceived notions of what Bad looks like. It's about building up flawed humans into false gods, and how those gods might self-destruct when they fail to live up to all the expectation, or they might lead their followers astray. It's about growing up, loss, prejudice, and choice.

But then it turned into a book about "forgiving" child killers and white supremacists because of, I don't know, some fake-philosophical drivel.

Trigger warnings, for those who want the heads up: (view spoiler)

The Good, or Reasons Why This Could Have Been 4 Stars If It Hadn't Infuriated Me:

1. Atmosphere. The story is set during an extremely hot summer, a summer so hot it feels like hell and drives people to behave in ways they normally wouldn't. The prose, the pacing, the tension, all of it was constructed in such a way that it created an oppressive and suffocating reading experience. That's good storytelling. The tone was very dark, very ominous, and exactly what it needed to be for this particular story.

2. The plot. A build-up of increasingly large disasters, hints at even greater tragedy still to come, leading to a climax that still manages to be shocking, horrifying, nauseating even though I knew what was coming.

3. The prose. While it got to be a little tiresome and overbearing after the first couple of chapters, some of the imagery it evokes is powerful. McDaniel's writing style is distinct from almost anything I've read before. I did feel that it could have been toned down a bit, but your mileage may vary.

4. The story plays with all the things that can make average people lose their rationality and behave in extreme ways. Nature. Personal trauma. Religion. Prejudice. The influence of other people. McDaniel skillfully weaves all of these forces together, shows how they collide, how they intensify each other, and the wreckage they leave in their wake.

The Bad, or I'm Not Even Going to Try to Be Objective Here Because We All Know My Opinionated A** Isn't Capable of That:

It's great when books tackle sensitive subjects - as long as you agree with how those subjects are handled. In this case, I didn't. I seem to be in the minority, but I'll explain.

This book has a lot to say about how beliefs, especially blind faith in a religion or a leader, can cause people to do awful things. It portrays religion as a force that can be just as destructive as it is, for some, uplifting. That's good. For me, though, the narrative went way too far on the "sympathy for the devil" front. Keep in mind that the devil is not the little boy mentioned in the blurb. The devils of this novel are racists, murderers, and abusers.

The book is determined to humanize these figures, to blame factors beyond their control for their actions and choices. Many people find value in that. I do not. I don't want to be told about the white supremacist, child-murdering cult leader's tragic past or how he was a father figure to the young protagonist. I simply don't care. I don't want to be told that a man whose thirteen-year-old son was burned alive by a mob goes on to defend them in court because he feels they weren't really in control of their choices. That they were so influenced by a charismatic leader and environmental factors and personal traumas that they are "not guilty by reason of temporary insanity."

No. What? No. They're guilty. They're guilty. They're guilty. There is no room for negotiation there. And Autopsy defending them from the law doesn't make him a good person - it makes him guilty, too.

It's great to tell a story where devils are normal human beings, maybe even your neighbors and friends and people who abide by the law and show you kindness. But when the devil comes out? Those people are responsible for their actions and I'm not interested in being preached to about "the good in the bad."

I still can't get over how Sal, the only significant black character in a book about racism, is also the character who gets the least humanity. His entire role was to affect the lives of white people - either by bringing out the worst in them or teaching them lessons or accidentally getting them killed. Nothing that happened to him was about him. He was a tool. A mystery. A dream. A force of nature. A maybe-devil. But he was never a child, and even his brutal murder is about all the white people around him, and not about him.

It just blows my mind. Months later, I'm still pissed about this.

Maybe I'm reading this completely wrong. Nobody else seems to have the same problems with this book that I do - but I have to go with my gut feeling, and my gut says this is a mess.

So. If a book wants to discuss morality, and you aggressively disagree with the messages it's sending you, you'll have a hard time enjoying it. That's what happened with me and this book.

Also, it includes some of my least favorite tropes: Fridging, Bury Your Gays, and Magical Minority.

TL;DR:

While I respect McDaniel's skill as a writer and storyteller, I had a very emotional and mostly negative reaction to this book. It comments on morality, but comes to conclusions I disagree with. In this case, I can't separate the story from the message - they are inextricable from one another.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes used in this review are subject to change upon publication.
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Reading Progress

June 20, 2016 – Started Reading
June 20, 2016 – Shelved
June 22, 2016 –
20.0% "magical realism + unsettling small town + sense of impending doom. i'm into it"
June 26, 2016 –
50.0% "this book wants to paint domestic abusers and accused rapists in a sympathetic light, but fails to give the same depth or humanity to even one female character. look, just bc the prose is so oversaturated with symbolism and metaphor that you can barely decipher it, and just bc the story deals in heavy subject matter, doesn't mean this book is Profound."
June 29, 2016 –
75.0% "fridging alert. of course female characters aren't worth developing or sympathizing with -- they're just props for making boys feel sad."
June 29, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Dem (new) - rated it 2 stars

Dem Excellent review.


b. t. Dem wrote: "Excellent review."

thank you!


Annette Even if you agree with her "moral PC conclusions" , I do not appreciate being hit over the head with them. And I found the narrator's voice annoying, I kept thinking he was 9, not 13.


message 4: by Susan (new)

Susan Thank you for your insightful review.


Similiee This is exactly how I felt about the book I've never been so angry


Similiee You actually put how I felt more coherently, mu review is currently a mess and even all over the place, but this actually exactly how i feel. Eerily spot on


message 7: by b. t. (last edited Feb 08, 2017 03:02PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

b. t. Tima wrote: "You actually put how I felt more coherently, mu review is currently a mess and even all over the place, but this actually exactly how i feel. Eerily spot on"

thanks for this comment!! i was hesitant to post this review because like... no one else seemed to be calling out the things i called out (at least back when i first posted it), so i was like? maybe i'm completely off base here?

but yeah. i found this book pretty blatantly racist and i'm still mad about it.


Wendy Falzone I really liked this book and gave it 5 stars but you have many extremely valid points in your review and I have to say I felt guilty for the 5 stars because of how deep the racism runs in this book. Thank you for your thoughtful review.


b. t. Wendy wrote: "I really liked this book and..."

hey, thanks for taking the time to read my review even though we had such different responses to the book. :)


Lauren Morse THANK YOU holy shit finally someone who saw the same problems I did


message 11: by b. t. (new) - rated it 1 star

b. t. Lauren wrote: "THANK YOU holy shit finally someone who saw the same problems I did"

oh god i've seen people on twitter put this on "diverse book recs" lists and i'm like?? how?? did i imagine this whole thing?????


Andrew Salgado I hated this pos book


Eileen THANK YOU. I can't believe how many people don't seem to care that a black child was stuffed in the fridge so white people could learn a lesson. Or the absolutely ludicrous idea that white people who lynch a black teen would EVER feel bad about it! That is NOT what happened in real life!


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