“You know where the name hell came from.” He crossed his hands on his lap.
“After I fell, I kept repeating to myself, God will forgive me. God will forgive me. Centuries of repeating this, I started to shorten it to He’ll forgive me. Then finally to one word, He’ll. He’ll.
“Somewhere along the way, I lost that apostrophe and now it’s only Hell. But hidden in that one word is God will forgive me. God will forgive me. That is what is behind my door, you understand. A world of no apostrophes and, therefore, no hope.”
— Sal, The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel
I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Tiffany McDaniel for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am so glad I had the experience of reading this book.
I mean this so seriously, if you’re looking for a new book to pick up this holiday season please make it The Summer that Melted Everything.
I am so broken-hearted by this book. It absolutely wowed me and wrecked me. Tiffany McDaniel is an incredibly skilled writer. Not only did the plot have me hooked from the beginning, but so did the prose. It was beautifully written which I think made the events of the book that much more tragic.
The summer of 1984 is the summer that changed the course of Fielding Bliss’ life. It’s the summer a heatwave ran through his town, Breathed, and the summer he became friends with the devil. Fielding’s father, Autopsy, invited the devil through a letter in the paper. What Autopsy didn’t know is that the devil was a thirteen-year-old boy named Sal. Fielding meets Sal first. Sal shows up in town with dirty overalls and asks for ice cream. Sal looks suspiciously like a runaways from a nearby towns who definitely aren’t the devil.
Not everyone in Breathed is happy about Sal’s arrival. As the heat rises, so do tensions in the town. Fielding and his family are convinced Sal is just a boy. Others in town believe Sal is exactly who he says he is as strange accidents start to occur throughout town. The accidents are blamed on Sal. The heat is blamed on Sal. And it’s all because he is a young black boy who claims his is the devil. While the Bliss family deals with their own personal demons, the town is dealing with its own and slowly pushes itself toward catastrophe.
The best part of this book is its characters. McDaniel is an expert at character creation and development. Each character from Fielding to Sal to Grayson Elohim were human and developed as humans do. What made their development beautiful was that some characters developed forward and for the better and others devolved. It was utterly human.
The characters were flawed and beautiful and (most) were lovable. I felt for almost every character. I think my favorite characters were the Bliss family. While reading their story, I felt like I had become part of the family. They were quirky and fun an, until the summer of 1984 and even throughout it, there was so much love in that family. The relationship between Fielding and Grand reminded me a bit of the relationship I had with my younger sister. McDaniel’s characters came to life on the pages of this book. Their struggles came to life.
Another thing McDaniel excelled at was creating humanity within her pages. Each of the character’s struggles (including side characters) and how they dealt with it was so human. They didn’t always handle things perfectly or rationally. Some characters acted out and others withdrew. In addition, the topical issues addressed in her book were incredibly relevant. McDaniel dealt with topics that humans still struggle with today. Homophobia, mob mentality, the criminal justice system, and racism. By including these issues, but not hitting you over the head with it, McDaniel made her book relevant in 1984 and today. She made me sit and think about how the citizens of Breathed dealt with these issues and how the citizens of America today are handling them. The Summer that Melted Everything really made me sit and think about what is means to be a good human in the face of these issues.
The ending was heartbreaking and disturbing and as much as I wanted to say, “That wouldn’t happen in 1984, let alone 2017…” and dismiss the events as far-fetched, they do happen. When telling my boyfriend about the ending and how I had that initial reaction, he raised an eyebrow and, without missing a beat, said, “But they do.”
Events as disturbing as the end of this book did happen in 1984 and do happen today, as much as I want to pretend they don’t. I think how rooted in truth this book was is what made it so much more heartbreaking and beautiful. McDaniel didn’t shy away from honesty in this book. It was brutal and disturbing, but one-hundred percent honest.
This book was wonderful in that each chapter revealed more and more about the characters struggles of what is bad and good. While the ending was where most of the revelations were, the book slowly introduced to the ideas and events that happen later on. All of the events at the end of the book shocked me, but one in particular completely broke me. I had truly come to love the Bliss family and having them torn apart in the way they were tore my heart apart.
The Summer that Melted Everything is compelling and strong and a must-read. It gets five out of five melted stars from me. In today’s current climate it is incredibly timely and so important. It is definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year, I think it may even be one of my favorites. It is definitely heavy and heartbreaking, but as a reader and as a human, everyone should pick up this book.