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Open Thread for Readers for May 2023


@Janine: yes, I did, and I have to say I was somewhat ambivalent about it. My “review” from Smart Bitches What Are You Reading? (April 8):

I’m in two minds about Elizabeth O’Roark’s incredibly angsty THE SUMMER WE FELL, a dual-timeline (2013 & 2023) story of a woman’s tangled relationship with her late boyfriend’s best friend. On the one hand, it does a great job with getting inside the head of a woman who, despite major success in the music industry, still bears the deep psychological scars of a dysfunctional childhood full of abuse and cruelty, along with a sense of shame for the part she believes she played in the death of her boyfriend. On the other hand, the book edges very close to melodrama in how truly horrible the heroine’s situation (both in the past and now) is and how she feels she deserves the contempt & hatred being heaped upon her. After enduring terrible abuse in her childhood home (cw/tw for off-page references to sexual assault & physical violence, on-page verbal abuse and attempted sexual assault), teenager Juliet is taken in by a church pastor and his wife. Juliet is truly grateful for the safe harbor her foster family has provided, but she can’t help resenting how everyone expects her to spend her every waking moment proving her gratitude. O’Roark is excellent at showing how “good” people, with the best of intentions, can decide what’s best for others, not caring if that’s really what they want or need. O’Roark is equally insightful about Juliet’s ambivalence toward the people who are providing her with shelter: she goes to school, waits tables in a diner, helps the pastor’s wife with housework, cooks and serves dinner, sings in church, and still feels she cannot take even a few minutes to play her guitar or sing for her own pleasure. While living with the couple, Juliet falls into a romance with their son, Danny, who is a couple of years older than her. Danny’s feelings for Juliet are clearly rather shallow and based on his expectations of the church-centric life he’s mapped out for himself; but, again, Juliet feels she cannot tell Danny the truth about her feelings (much later in the book, someone comments that Danny wanted “something uncomplicated, but that’s something you can’t have with a complicated girl”). Then Danny brings home college friend Luke (a football player and surfer), and things begin to escalate as Luke (also a product of a dysfunctional home life) is the first person to actually “see” Juliet, to understand, believe in, and encourage her. Their burgeoning feelings for each other create an ominous sense of something bad about to happen—especially as O’Roark rapidly moves the timeline back-and-forth between then and now, and we swing ever closer to the events leading to Danny’s death. Needless to say, Danny’s death is only the first in a cascade of events that threatens to destroy both Juliet and Luke—and certainly destroys their feelings for each other until they are unwillingly reunited years later. Far more than O’Roark’s previous books, THE SUMMER WE FELL reminds me of books by Mia Sheridan or Aly Martinez—full of emotional upheavals and circumstances that have no truly good options—and I can’t help but assume that this stylistic pivot is being pushed by the current primacy of Book-Tok with its emphasis on romance heroines having to suffer misery piled upon misery as a prerequisite for an HEA. I’m cautiously recommending THE SUMMER WE FELL, but I really feel that Book-Tok has a lot to answer for.



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