“The Summer We Got Free”: powerful family drama with queer themes

Holy shit.

Okay, so maybe reading this book in one sitting, alone in my apartment, wasn’t such a smart idea. I’m a wimp and there was some pretty fucking powerful, heavy, HEAVY, I mean heavy like those magnets that make something tiny stick to the table and you can’t lift them no matter what you do, stuff in this novel.

You know how some of us are always looking for queer lit that doesn’t remind us of what it felt like to feel that false shame? This is not that book.

But what this book is, is a cinematic, well-constructed, multi-layered story that gives up the secrets of its tightly-wound reveal like a somber burlesque dancer slowly discarding veil after veil. By the end of the story there are no veils anymore (as the title suggests), and I promise that, while we see the worst of someone’s shame, we also see the beautifully-phrased realization of how wrong it was to be ashamed.

This is a book about black women and to a lesser extent black men; all the characters—members of a family who never dealt with the murder of one of the children seventeen years ago—are complete creations who each could have filled up an entire book of their own. And yet, it’s in their combination that the story thrives.

This book comes with a passel of trigger warnings; they’re in my tags on this post because some of them are spoilers.

Another thing you do get, by the way, is main character lesbians who don’t die. Some of us won’t read a book without that reassurance, so, sorry if that’s a spoiler.

Choice bit of excellent phrasing:  Yellow roses, fat and lush as bowls of paint. Their fallen petals like paintdrops on the tabletop. And one of the first scenes with real, charged chemistry between the two leading ladies reminded me of the “my candle has gone out” scene in La Boheme.

Most of all, read it for the fiercely independent protagonist as a child, in the book’s many flashbacks (it’s told in dual narratives, between the 50’s and the 70’s.) She was like Lisa Simpson, but angrier: talented, smart, and unafraid to speak truth in the face of myths and conformity.

The Summer We Got Free is written by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous and won a Lammie last year.

About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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