Author: Julia Fierro
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman
We all remember those summers of our youth, especially the ones in which we try to appear grown up while trying to fit in with the cool kids. Maddie Pencott LaRosa tries to do just that the summer of ‘92 on a small island that is overwhelmingly white and divided by social class. On the West side are the laborers of Grudder Aviation Factory, and on the East are the rich upper crust who run the factory. Maddie’s mother comes from the East side, but after marrying Maddie’s abusive husband from the West side, they live in a small cottage off her grandparents’ estate with Maddie and her brother Dom. Maddie wants more than anything to fit in with the rich girls at school, and she finally has an in. When the prodigal daughter, Leslie Day Marshall moves back “home” after her parents’ deaths, she brings with her a black husband and mixed-race children. Maddie immediately falls for Leslie’s son, Brooks, and invites him to hang out every night with her new friends. Trouble starts happening for everyone involved as a historic gypsy moth “plague” invades the island and threatens to remove every bit of green within eyesight.
Told in six different perspectives, the story unfolds as each person brings secrets and revelations to the mix. Maddie is hiding the fact that her mother is slowly killing herself with pills and alcohol, while her abusive father cheats on her mother. Brooks, Leslie’s son, is not happy to be away from the city, where he is accepted and well-liked. He feels uncomfortable around all the white people and is very careful. Leslie has a mission of social justice now that she has her parents’ money and power. Jules, Leslie’s black Ivy League-educated husband, is a botanist and works to revive the fabulous gardens at Leslie’s parents’ estate. He doesn’t understand how Leslie can do the air-kiss socialite party thing when she is so quickly angered by these people’s actions towards the “help,” especially when they think Jules is the help. Dom, Maddie’s brother, is a bit of an outcast and lives on the fringe of the island. He drinks whenever he can and suspects he is gay, which makes him feel even worse about himself. Veronica, Maddie’s grandmother, is hiding her terminal breast cancer diagnosis while keeping track of her dementia-riddled husband Bob, AKA the Colonel, as he wanders their property with a gun in tow. Veronica has lived her life as a society woman and now realizes how fake her life is, so she vows to make some life-changing decisions that will hopefully benefit her grandchildren before it is too late.
There is so much going on in this 400-page book so I was glad I started it way before this review was due. It brought back a lot of memories as I also was a teen (albeit a bit older) during the 90s and experienced many of the same world events as these people did. The characters were appealing and interesting, and while not all were likeable, they were as the author intended. It was easy to feel empathy for Dom and Maddie living the lives they did, and although at first Veronica was unbearable, she evolved into a person I was rooting for until the very end. Brooks and Jules were quickly likeable, and one had to feel for them as they entered a very challenging world that would eventually make them miserable. Each character had good traits and bad ones to make them interesting.
The story itself was interesting, but at times it either plodded along or had so much going on that it was difficult to follow. For example, without giving away spoilers, first this would happen, then this happened, then something else happened, then another thing happened. It was almost as if the author could not decide which challenge to throw at the characters, so she threw several of them at her. Considering the book was long, there were plenty of opportunities to throw some wrenches into the system, yet they all seemed to happen at the end of the book and really didn’t do much for the story. I did enjoy the overall premise of the book, but again, these wrenches thrown into the system detracted from how great it could have been. I would have loved to have seen a little bit more focus on Leslie’s family and its story and how it related to her return to the island. I would still recommend this book to friends, but would let them know my reservations about the second half.
This is a book that touches on a variety of hot topics and therefore contains violence, sex, and foul language. For this reason, I recommend this book for mature readers. Fans of coming of age stories, the 1990s, and family dysfunction will enjoy this book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.