A haunting ghost story, a mystery, a queer romance, an Appalachian street-racing adventure: it’s impressive enough that Lee Mandelo’s debut novel, Summer Sons, doesn’t get lost in its potentially-contradictory impulses. Even more impressive is the way it pulls these threads together—or, perhaps, is pulled and balanced between them—to tell a vibrant story of love and grief ... There are some seriously gory scenes here, some seriously steamy ones too, and the entire novel is enriched by a constant level of bodily awareness and detail ... Although Summer Sons is keen, appropriately enough, to accelerate into the curves at key moments, its overall pace is strangely meandering. It’s not that it’s a bad mystery, it’s that Andrew is a phenomenally bad detective ... The characters feel real, the cars feel real, and Mandelo absolutely nails the setting, right at this very specific intersection of Appalachia and collegiate uncertainty: the heat, the drinks, the casual physicality, the habits borne of rural poverty that recent affluence and city-living can’t entirely erase. The ghostly and magical elements, though disturbing, feel organic. To my eye there’s a slightly-conspicuous (if welcome) absence of gun culture, but the emphasis on the land itself, on old and bloody secrets, on lonesome roads and flexible families all combine for an honest and particular background that I rarely see in speculative fiction, and I’m here for it ... I found Summer Sons ultimately rather comforting: no saccharine happily-ever-after, but figuring it out, and intensely alive.
... a haunting, slow burn of a novel that explores grief, loss, denial, and a hunt for truth set against an atmospheric backdrop of the humid heat of the south. Summer Sons takes some of the characteristics you would find in a southern gothic such as flawed characters, the use of horror imagery, ghost stories, and secrets and uses them to create a layered and lingering tale. There are a fair few spooky and eerie moments, which becomes unsettling at times but that’s what can make a book go from good to great because it gets to you ... I was hooked in from reading the blurb, but I found that there is so much more to find in the story that all weaves together. It is a ghost story (maybe both physical and metaphorical), it also becomes a search for the truth, about friendship, self-discovery, unpacking trauma, re-evaluating relationships and looking towards recovery. I found it to be a very memorable, and yes, haunting read and I am already looking forward to re-reading it again with new eyes ... I’d recommend Summer Sons to fans of the southern gothic as well as those new to the genre, and I think readers who like a good mystery would enjoy this too. I’d also recommend it to those who enjoy character focused novels, as well as anyone looking to read more queer literature by queer authors.
Summer Sons opens up the possibility that the way we currently conceive of our connections to land—as property, something to be owned and passed down through families—needs to be severed, in favor of connections to people and a very different kind of community ... In classic gothic works, horror is often rooted in the fear of deviation from normative social expectations of gender and sexuality. In Summer Sons, embracing one’s identity and forming new communities—even if they are not traditional or expected—becomes a way to fight the legacies of slavery, whiteness, and internalized homophobia. Andrew breaks from those toxic legacies by accepting his own queerness and choosing his relationships with Sam and Riley instead of violent power over life and death.
... a satisfying, menacing, character-centered slow burn where every detail matters. Part nefarious ghost story, part academic thriller, with a Fast & Furious vibe, this compelling tale of mortal danger and dark supernatural power also thoughtfully grapples with notions of masculinity ... A great choice for readers who enjoy thought-provoking and engaging horror that asks its protagonists to come to terms with the monsters—both literal and metaphorical—in their past ... Also a good option for fans of dark academic thrillers, like Donna Tartt's The Secret History.
Mandelo brings a queer goth aesthetic to the Southern gothic in their slow-building, brooding contemporary fantasy debut—with drag-racing, drug-use, and plenty of ghosts to boot ... Despite the high-speed car races that wind through the novel, the first half drags at a snail’s pace. Things pick up considerably in the second half, gaining urgency and narrative complexity, but the central mystery provides few interesting twists. Instead, the novel shines in the tortured love triangle between Andrew, an intriguing stranger, and the ghost that haunts him. Full of angst and lingering spirits, Mandelo’s debut is like Tennessee molasses—dense, dark, slow-moving, and with a distinct Southern flavor.