Get Ready for Haunt Boy Summer: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Available on Bookshop.Org*
Genre: Horror

Content Warning: The book begins with an apparent death by suicide, which this review discusses.

Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons is an immersion into the South with a particular focus on atmospheric writing that makes the book come alive. Andrew arrives at Vanderbilt University just after the death of his best friend Eddie, who he was meant to join in starting an American Studies graduate program that semester. Eddie began the program a semester early and had uncovered part of his family history while researching local haunts. However, his apparent death by suicide leaves Andrew reeling and certain that Eddie was killed in another way.

Andrew’s fall semester begins with his attention split: he’s investigating Eddie’s death, supposedly attending grad school, and getting in deep with the friends that Eddie left behind. Most notably, he’s connecting with Riley (his roommate, inherited along with the house that Eddie left behind) and Sam, Riley’s cousin, as he believes that they’re the best bets for knowing what happened. Of course, he’s looking into his grad school classmates and instructors as well - when he’s remembering to go to class, that is.

Ultimately, the murder mystery that unravels is interesting and compelling in its own right. However, as much as Andrew’s attention is divided between the investigation, academics, and a deepening friendship with Sam, so is the novel’s attention divided. It feels like these three competing plots feel like they’re from different books. I expect that this is deliberate, but it feels like the book meanders at points. Likewise, as much as Andrew uncovers parts of himself by untangling his relationship with Eddie (and starting anew with Sam), it feels like the arc is left unresolved by the end of the book.

Now, perhaps this is because the romance and mystery all come together in the last 100 pages of the nearly 400 page novel. Of course, that’s the traditional time for a story to come together. However, this book luxuriates in description before getting to that point. If you’re into a high-viscosity novel, then this will be for you. However, I found this was really for its own sake. While the mystery does get resolved, this book focuses on the journey there.

Pick It Up If You’re Into:

  • A mesh of dark academia and southern gothic vibes
  • An uncertain main character grappling with the death of his best friend-maybe-more
  • Atmospheric writing that sometimes eclipses the plot

Content Notes:

  • Graphic depiction of suicide
  • Explicit depictions of violence
  • Moderately explicit sexual content
  • Moderate drug and alcohol use
  • Moderate references to racism, homopohobia and transphobia

Representation Notes:

  • Main character questioning sexuality
  • Romance between two men
  • Trans masculine secondary character
  • Polyarmorous relationship between secondary characters
  • Depictions of Southern class divides
  • Trans masculine author

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