Note: Thanks to NetGalley and Tiffany McDaniel for providing me with an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available for purchase in the United States on July 26, 2016.
“It was a heat that didn’t just melt tangible things like ice, chocolate, Popsicles. It melted all the intangibles too. Fear, faith, anger and those long-trusted templates of common sense. It melted lives as well, leaving futures to be slung with the dirt of the gravedigger’s shovel.”
It’s always refreshing to read a coming-of-age story written for adults. Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel may be about a teenage boy, but it’s unapologetically dark and complex — much like life.
The premise is interesting right off the bat: It’s the summer of 1984, and Fielding Bliss’s father — a local prosecutor — invites the devil to their small midwestern town of Breathed, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, a 13-year-old black boy in tattered overalls shows up in Breathed, claiming to be the devil himself. Assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby town, the Bliss family welcomes the boy, Sal, into their home, where they treat him as one of their own.
But is he really the devil? As tragic events begin occurring throughout Breathed, a group of townsfolk look to Sal as their scapegoat, convinced that he must be the source of all this suffering. This fear-based fanaticism culminates in a shocking event that marks the end of Fielding’s innocence, and leaves everyone involved forever changed.
The Summer That Melted Everything is a powerful and devastating parable that confronts some of the darkest aspects of human nature: it’s about grief and regret, it’s about the fallibility of moral certainty and — above all — it’s about the human need to find a reason for senseless suffering.
I will admit that it took some time for me to become fully invested in the story and the characters, but this is one of those books that sneaks up on you, whose poignancy eventually hits hard and fast and doesn’t let up. It’s hard to believe that this is McDaniel’s first novel. Her prose make you stop every so often to re-read a paragraph and soak up all the beauty you can’t possibly absorb on a first pass alone. A unique, dark and compelling debut from a fierce young author.