I received this book for free from NetGalley, the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
Published: July 26th 2016 by St. Martin's Press
Genres: Fiction (General)
Source: NetGalley, the author
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The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel explores the loss of innocence in a sleepy Ohio town. Fielding Bliss is a kid growing up in Breathed, Ohio. His dad is a judge, and has been struggling with the ethical implications of his role. When he started his career, he saw everything in black and white, and saw himself as an agent of justice and ultimately God’s will, but slowly he realizes that despite his best efforts, sometimes even he can get it wrong and condemn the innocent. Fielding’s dad posts an add in a local newspaper inviting Satan himself to come to town. He didn’t expect to receive an answer, and certainly not in the form of a thirteen-year-old black boy named Sal.
Because he has nowhere else to go, Fielding’s family takes him in. The entire town of Bliss is suspicious of Sal, but he quickly wins over some friends, beginning with Fielding. He also makes enemies as the residents of Bliss start to blame Sal for everything that goes wrong. They’re unable to accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and they see in Sal a convenient scapegoat. The tension builds throughout the novel until it comes to its ultimate tragic conclusion.
The Summer That Melted Everything starts out as magical realism. Sal claims to be the devil, and he has a host of stories and parables that seem pretty convincing. But as the story progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Sal is just a kid who’s had an extremely difficult life. He feels like the devil, because he understands what it’s like to be cast out. But he’s also wise and kind and helps heal the broken. The real devil doesn’t have horns and a tail, it’s the hatred and mistrust and resentment that are present in ordinary people and cause them to do terrible things.
When the story starts to get real, it does so in a hard way. Through Fielding’s eyes, we go from the innocence of youth to tough social issues like racism, domestic violence, and AIDS. We see Fielding as a child, and we also see him as a bitter old man who is haunted by the past and lives in his own personal hell. There’s no salvation in this story. And to me, the scariest part of The Summer That Melted Everything isn’t just my sadness and horror at the story’s ending, but the fact that I’m afraid that we haven’t progressed enough as a society since then.
The story’s antagonist, Elohim, preys on people’s fears and amplifies their superstition. He fosters a mob mentality that grows to an unstoppable force. And despite the best efforts of good and honorable people like Fielding’s father, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it until the madness has run it’s course and people look back at it and themselves in horror. And the worst part is that as a reader you can see it coming from a mile away and are powerless to stop it.
This is the kind of book that will make you cry and make you want to hold those you love very closely. I truly enjoyed the beginning of the book, but as I continued reading, it became more and more upsetting, and I felt more and more withdrawn. It hit me hard emotionally. That is the mark of a masterfully written story.