June 28th, 2017
“I know the sins of everyone who comes to hell. That’s part of my misery. To know and feel theirs.” ― Tiffany McDaniel, The Summer That Melted Everything
I can definitely say, this was not what I expected.
The lovely author of The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel, was kind enough to send me her debut novel in exchange for an honest review. There are a lot of things I could say about TSTME, but if I were to sum it up in two words, they would be: Brilliant and Disturbing.
So much about this book made me question…well, everything. There were a lot of parts that I disliked, but there were also many parts that I thought were beautifully written. The synopsis is as followed:
FROM GOODREADS: Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occ
ur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
The story is told by an older Fielding Bliss as he tells the tale of how he became close friends with the devil. The time jumps confused me at times, but eventually I got used to it. I found Sal, the devil, to be quite enigmatic, even though most of the time he says exactly what he means. He speaks in metaphors a lot which I wasn’t a fan of, but at times they did provide a new insight to the novel that was needed.
“He was more field than town. More old soul pasture then adolescent attitude.” – Tiffany McDaniel, The Summer That Melted Everything
This novel is full to the brim when it comes to complex characters. I found that a lot of their storylines were heartbreaking, especially Grand’s, Fielding’s older brother. His story was one of the hardest to read. There was some foreshadow for his character in the middle of the book, but I didn’t see a lot of his character revelation coming. When it comes to Fielding, I didn’t really connect with him. At the end, I think I did a bit more, but when he is first introduced, there was no emotional connection from him. As for Sal, this little “boy” completely shattered me. I found him to be haunting and other-worldly and I suppose that is the point, but in the end…he broke my heart.
The entirety of the story deals with social issues such as racism, homophobia, and mob mentality. Fear of the unknown plays a big role in the book as well and I think McDaniel did a fantastic job when it came to highlighting how fear can cause utter destruction within a community. However, there was a very hefty amount of stereotypes that I could have done without. I was born in the late nineties on the west coast of America so I never experienced the prejudice that was around in 1984, but this book provides somewhat of an insight to that.
The writing in this novel was beautiful. McDaniel creates complex sentences that flow perfectly and her descriptive language and use of imagery was spot on. I personally have never been to Ohio, but through her words, the world built itself. Now, I knew that there would be some biblical references going in because of the synopsis, however, I am not religious in any sense so I found it difficult to follow and understand a lot, so keep that in mind if you choose to read this book.
In my opinion, there are two main themes in this book. One would be Fear. The ending especially is the result of pure fear and many actions throughout are also the result of the emotion. Fear is a main element for anger and that is shown many times in the novel. The second theme would be Loss of Innocence. This is apparent throughout most of the novel, but especially at the end. Fielding’s loss of innocence is the most obvious, but I think his parents also exhibit it, as well the entirety of the town.
I’d like to take a moment to discuss Mob Mentality. Going back to the theme of fear, this is a very impactful issue in the novel. There is a quote, however, that I loved. McDaniel references Orwell’s 1984 in the last pages of the novel and I was so happy to see that. 1984 is a brilliant novel and if you haven’t read it, then I HIGHLY suggest you do. The quote is:
“This is the year 1984 we’re talking about. The year George Orwell said we would be convinced two and two makes five. He proved through story, mind is controllable. These people have proved through reality no different.” – Tiffany McDaniel, The Summer That Melted Everything.
I think that comparison was genius. Especially if you compare the two novels. Big Brother being viewed as a divine figure and all that. One simple idea that turns frightful can change an entire town and to me, that is very powerful.
Now, I did find the revelations at the end to be highly disturbing. In fact the last 150 pages or so are spine chilling and at times I wasn’t sure that I would be able to read any further. This book does deal with suicide, so please keep that in mind for those who may be affected. That, for me, did cause some issues, but I managed to read on. I felt a bit sick reading the end, but I think that is true testament to the author’s ability to bring out emotions in her writing. I felt angry, sad, disgusted, horrified, and much more. It may take a while for me to get over this book.
This book is not a happy YA contemporary. It is a dark book with dark themes. Many issues are discussed and many things come to light. Good versus Evil is another theme I would tack onto this novel. Although, I would say that the idea of good and evil is very subjective in this book. Who is to say who is evil and who is good? Just because the devil has shown up, that doesn’t mean his acts are of evil. In fact there was much more evil in the novel that wasn’t at the devil’s hand…or was it?
Overall, I give this book 4/5 stars. I found the language to be beautiful and the story to be haunting, but for me, I did not like some of the fates of the characters, the southern dialogue, the amount of metaphors (too much at times), and the fact that I felt utterly unnerved at the end. This book is not for everyone, but I think bit and pieces of it can resonate with most people. It will leave an imprint on you and I think it will make any reader rethink what is good and what is evil in every sense of the words.
“Gone were the hills of my youth. Gone were the trees. The houses I had known, the people I had loved. Gone, gone, gone with a town that became a place behind a burning door, down a long hallway, and behind an evermore burning door.” – Tiffany McDaniel, The Summer That Melted Everything
I would like to thank Tiffany McDaniel once again for sending me her debut novel to review. You can get this book now from your choice of booksellers and the paperback version will be available on July 4th of this year! So check it out. I think this book will stay with me for a while. A few characters in particular would be: Stella, Grand, and Sal. Their stories were the most impactful for me. I hope you enjoy this novel and I would love to hear your thoughts on it!