Cover Image: Summer Sons

Summer Sons

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I don't normally give out a five star rating for a book unless its both technically perfect AND hits some key points/feelings that are often indescribable for me personally. The fifth star, for me, is something that is deeply personal and so I never argue when another reader and I are on the 4/5 split. So I struggled a bit with what to give this one. It is a technically perfect work of art. Stunning prose; full characters who feel like real, breathing people; rich, complex relationships; and a story that manages to be beautifully atmospheric while not sacrificing pace all come together with a tight, fitting ending. 

This book is everything it promises to be and more and I genuinely cannot recommend it enough. It is a rare book indeed where, just 100 pages in, I was telling people "you need to preorder this right now." 

But, for me, I know a book hits that "indescribable" point when I want to turn it over and start again the moment I read the last few words. Here, the first time through, the book felt so nostalgic (growing up in the same area, having several similar life experiences) that finishing it for the first time felt like reading a beloved tale for the nth time. That's something I don't think I've ever been able to say about a book before, but the way Mandelo captures the utter southerness of their location, there feels like no other way to describe it. The characters felt like people so real they were about to walk of the page and the location was just as palpable. 

This book has a LOT of praise points (I honestly tried to think of something nitpicky I could say about it - came up empty). but how Mandelo manages to write the early 20s/LGBTQ experience in a way that feels deeply ordinary and familiar while also weaving in an incredibly unique ghost story that manages to feel fresh AND timeless at the same time? 

That is just unquestionable talent. 

I don't think I've ever been so excited to see what a debut author does next.
Was this review helpful?
I finished Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo a few days ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. This debut novel is a beautifully queer, Southern Gothic look into the world of Appalachian street racing and higher learning.
	Summer Sons focuses on Andrew and Eddie, two friends with an intense, unexplainable bond as they move on to their graduate program at Vanderbilt. Eddie decides to go first, asking Andrew to stay behind for a few months. When Eddie dies by apparent suicide, he learns that Eddie has left him his considerable fortune, a house with a roommate he doesn’t want, his extensive thesis research, and a vengeful haunt that will not leave him alone. He also leaves him the mystery of his demise, which Andrew knows was not suicide. In order to solve this mystery, Andrew must assimilate into Eddie’s life, diving headfirst into a world of fast cars, blurred sexual identities, and copious amounts of drugs.
	If that sounds like a lot thematically, it is but it somehow works. Mandelo is an amazing writer who manages to tackle huge themes like wealth inequality and toxic masculinity in the middle of what is, in essence, a ghostly unrequited love story. I am particularly impressed by his searing indictment of the casual racism of the academic world, especially in the South. I read a lot of dark academia and this is a topic usually skirted around or wholly ignored, so I appreciate the inclusion. I also love the way Mandelo handles the dual nature of human beings. Every character is incredibly nuanced, always encompassing more than one thing at a time, which is realistic and beautiful.
Summer Sons is one of the best books I can remember reading. I absolutely loved every minute of it and cannot wait to see what Mandelo comes up with next. I'd give this one more than 5 stars if I could.
Was this review helpful?
Andrew is getting ready to join his best friend, when he instead learns of his apparent suicide. Now everything Eddie owned belongs to Andrew except for the knowledge of what really happened. Andrew knew Eddie better than anyone else in the world and he is positive that he never would have killed himself.
It took me a while to get into this story. The pace was slow at first, although I was immediately knocked over by the depth of Andrew's grief at the loss of his friend Eddie. As Andrew moves into what was once Eddie's house and now belongs to him, I didn't really care for his inherited roommate Riley or really any of Eddie's crowd. They grew on me eventually and by the time I realized I was angry with Eddie for having shared what Andrew thought was private, I was pretty heavily invested in Andrew's search for the truth of what really led to Eddie's death and whether he really took his own life. There is a supernatural element involved but it felt secondary to Andrew's grief and repressed sexuality. If you enjoy a slow burn horror this is for you.

4 out of 5 stars
Was this review helpful?
Part mystery, part creepy Southern Gothic ghost story, part dark academia, part an exploration of queer masculinity and grief, Summer Sons was like nothing else I ever read. I wasn’t sure if it’d be up my alley, I don’t go for horror, and the ARC request was of the experimental why-the-hell-not-my-friends-like-it kind, but damn it was good. I picked it up at exactly the right time.

Andrew is in pieces after his childhood best friend Eddie suddenly died. He knows that what looks like a suicide isn’t and, haunted by Eddie’s ghost, sets off to follow his steps at university, meet his friends, and find out what really happened.

Also, he might be into guys without knowing it yet.

The story starts off fairly slow. Andrew’s idea of investigating is drinking, doing drugs, racing, getting acquainted with Eddie’s friends, avoiding talking about his feelings, and doing the bare minimum of Eddie’s schoolwork he was supposed to be following up on. His discovery of his sexuality is even slower because he’s an oblivious moron (oh, do we love to see it). But slowly and all the more surely, the story drew me in until I read the last part in one go.

I thought I wouldn’t be too into it because horror, but it’s so character-focused and queer in a messy and unlabelled way it ended up being very much to my liking. The atmosphere is spot on, it’s quotable as hell, and I loved the side characters, especially Riley aka the one sane person. I also found it interesting how, for the lack of a better world, masculine it is – fistfights, racing, cheap beer, and all.

All in all, I’d highly recommend you give it a try.
Was this review helpful?
This book was the definition of a slow burn investment for me. At first I wasn't sure how I would feel because the pacing is pretty slow as Andrew gets acclimated to his new setting and grieving over the loss of his best friend but as the story progressed I found this slow start really allowed me to connect to these characters in a way I wouldn't have been able to if it were a more traditionally fast paced mystery dark academia book. I was pleasantly surprised by the fast and furious vibes and the relationship developments between characters and was always itching to read it when I wasn't. In general I think the setting was not my favorite to be in, since as a reader I am not generally drawn to this dark, toxic settings but besides that personal preference I am really glad I picked this one up and would recommend it to anyone looking for a new dark academia that focuses on toxic masculinity, and queer identity with southern gothic vibes.
Was this review helpful?
Summer Sons is a howl in the dark. It’s southern, but in the way you only notice near dusk, when blue lightning bugs come out and dance in tandem. It’s got pollen in its throat, sweat in its eyes, and a trucker hat on backwards. Summer Sons rips itself out of Appalachian places—Tennessee lowlands, Georgia high country, Kentucky caves—and offers its men up on a platter, daring you to taste.

Written by Kentucky resident Lee Mandelo, the book takes place at Vanderbilt University, a very well-to-do school in Nashville, Tennessee that’s got enough prestige and culture to impress rich parents who don’t want to send their kids past the Mason-Dixon. In this privileged setting, a young man, Eddie Fulton, has been found dead in the woods. The police have ruled it a suicide, but Andrew Blur—Eddie’s best friend and foster brother—knows that there’s more to it than that.

After all, Andrew and Eddie are cursed. Revealed in bits and pieces throughout the book, when the two boys were kids they were trapped for days in a cave. While there, their bleeding injuries awakened a magical ghoul that has haunted them their entire lives. Andrew has tried to run from his revenant, but Eddie embraced it, trying to figure out what it wanted and how to control it.

While the two men might have haunted blood, Andrew is sure that his foster brother wouldn’t commit suicide. Despite warnings from his family and friends to drop it, Andrew undertakes an investigation to figure out what really happened to Eddie. From the nosy thesis supervisor to the rough-and-tumble townies, Andrew finds himself caught up in the relationships that Eddie left behind. None of this is made easier by the fact that Andrew’s curse seems to have come back with a vengeance, taking the guise of a skeletal, rotting revenant that feels, in some eerie way, like Eddie.

As the mystery unfolds, so do details of Andrew and Eddie’s relationship. While they did grow up together, first as friends, and then as foster siblings after Eddie’s parents died, there was always a tension between them, a kind of casual intimacy that might have developed into something more. Andrew tries to push down his more complicated feelings as he begins to unspool the mystery surrounding Eddie’s death. While they were never physically intimate, everyone in Eddie’s old circle seems to think that Andrew was Eddie’s boyfriend. And Andrew refuses to think about what their relationship could have been. In the middle of this southern setting, a gripping coming-out story reveals itself as Andrew comes to terms with his relationship, or lack of a relationship, with his dead best friend.

It feels unfair to compare Summer Sons to another book, but this novel is the meaner, adult version of the heat wave of southern boyhood brought on by the Raven Cycle. (Although considering Mandelo’s four-part series on Stiefvater’s seminal tetralogy, maybe this comparison is earned.) What so many fans latched onto in that series—the smoky sense of identity that swirls around queers in the rural south, the stickiness of growing up with and without privilege, the magic of low hollers and unknown woods—is given its full herald in Summer Sons. Relying on some very slant Appalachian folklore, this book is a thoroughly modern novel, keeping pace with contemporary work and leaving behind the old stories of Silver John and murder ballads. The book muses on dark academia, but focuses on the living that happens outside of the classroom. There’s street racing and half-attempted threesomes, murder, and ghosts. The prose is centered around grisly details, and these are the parts that stand out beyond any others—those moments when the undead revenant comes to collect.

There is also a grief fantasy at work here. Death by suicide is often difficult to conceptualize, and fighting to find “the truth” of a tragedy is a universal desire. All around Andrew, people attempt to convince him that his friend did take his own life. Andrew, by way of supernatural revenant, knows things that nobody else knows. He gets to play out the fantasy of finding Eddie’s truth among the clues left behind. So often in the real world people are left to struggle on their own, without any explanations. Andrew becomes a vessel through which the audience can fantasize about closure and grief, where the audience can experience a catharsis through simply knowing what happened to a loved one before they died.

While Andrew struggles with his suspicions surrounding Eddie’s official manner of death, he also, very simply, struggles with what was lost. The complicated feelings he has about what did or didn’t happen between himself and his best friend/foster brother are exceptionally poignant moments within Summer Sons. This mourning keeps us grounded in the plot, even amid the leisurely first half of the book. All we can feel is bad for Andrew. All we can do is sympathize.

But, the plot continues. While Andrew obsesses over his relationship to Eddie, he has to rely on his inherited roommate Riley—and Riley’s cousin Sam Halse—to help him figure out just how deep Eddie was in the shit. It’s Andrew’s friendship with Sam, the kind of southern man you love to hate, that becomes the pulsing, bloody heartbeat of this book.

Sam Halse is every boy I knew in my small, rural, southern high school. The kind with tattoos and a bad attitude, who nobody fucked with, but whom everyone got fucked up with. The boy who comes late to his own party, half a forty already down. He’s the boy who soups up his car but lives without air conditioning, installs custom lights, and learns about racing the old-fashioned way—by outdriving cops in the night, turning off his headlights to careen down winding southern roads, a rogue deer standing in between life, death, and jail time.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why I loved Summer Sons. I knew these boys. I wanted to fight these boys. I wanted to be these boys. Some of them I might have even wanted to fuck.

The exploration of masculinity in Summer Sons is almost fetishistic. Masculinity is captured and held up to the light, observed like a moth near a fire. It’s something to desire, to look away from, to aspire towards. The women in Summer Sons are side characters, meant to aid the development of the men, ignored with the swipe of a finger as Andrew screens their calls. When they do enter the scene they are as fully fleshed out as any other character, but (with one exception) they don’t cling to the page, don’t demand to be known in the way that the men do. As we press against the edges of men, they break under Mandelo’s prose, eviscerated in parts and in whole, haunted by the specters of expectation and attitudes.

Underneath this exploration of masculinity and manhood lies the haunting. The magic in this book is distant and immediate at the same time. It simply appears; it is not controlled. It is otherworldly and not easily understood. The ghost at the center of Summer Sons is born in blood and terror, and it latches itself to ribs, sticky and wet, muddy and angry.

Inside this conclave of heat and horror, a truly wonderful novel plays out. The line-writing, y’all. It’s incredible. Every paragraph is crafted: tight and wound up in the nuances of navigating a world you don’t belong to but are forced into. Andrew’s upset and awkwardness comes through in his every decision, the darkness at the edges of his vision giving him a narrow focus on a singular objective. He has to find Eddie’s killer. Whether the truth lies in Halse’s after-hours crowd Eddie hung out with or the precarious politics of academia, Andrew digs his own grave, trying to find Eddie’s.

Summer Sons is southern gothic—if, that is, Faulkner did coke off the spine of As I Lay Dying and asked himself, “how can I make it gay?” There’s an undercurrent of sex to this book that feels at home in the south—a place that sometimes gets lumped in with prudish morality, but which here instead chooses to revel in its own sweetly searing moments of desire. Contained in every touch is another that didn’t happen, every look becomes a longing glance, and each token becomes a larger part of a gift that was never given over.

This book is a slow-burning wildfire. The kind that starts leisurely in the hills and spreads high until you can’t put the book down. You have to know what happens, you have to see Andrew through his bad decisions and even worse taste in partners. It takes a while (about half the book), but the build up is worth it, deeply intentional and meant to be savored. Mandelo has crafted something truly wonderful in his explorations of men and monsters and shaped it around a haint-laden blue bottle tree. Eddie’s mysterious death is what truly grounds this book, but it’s the blood that Andrew spills into his grave that makes it a hauntingly unforgettable read.
Was this review helpful?
This was good but not as good as I hoped. The pacing was slow and confusing at the beginning, and it wasn't a pleasant reading experience for me. I wasn't a fan of the car racing sections, but that is a personal preference. I loved the Southern Gothic tone of the book as well as the folk lore elements. While this wasn't a new favorite, I would read more work by this author.
Was this review helpful?
For nearly a decade, Andrew Blur and Eddie Fulton were inseparable. Described by others as friends, brothers, and roommates, the pair shared a life of “Eddie keeping [Andrew] leashed but cared for at the same time” and Andrew content to follow wherever Eddie led. Bonded by love, death, and blood, they became each other’s home—a home crowded with hungry silence, barbed solace, and raging yearning; coalescing into a miasmic, borderline-obsessive devotion that seeped out as feverish aggression and adrenaline-soaked recklessness. It was the only acceptably masculine language in which they could express their feelings. They shared a major, a tattoo, even a girl, so it made sense to apply to the same graduate program in American Studies at Vanderbilt University. What didn’t make sense was Eddie’s surprise early admission to the program, his move to Nashville without Andrew, and their subsequent semester separation that Eddie extended incrementally from 5 months to 8. When Andrew finally got permission from Eddie to join him, their reunion comes in the form of a funeral a few days later.

With Eddie gone, so is Andrew’s home.

Every moment of his life that followed would take him further from Eddie, no matter his efforts to scrounge for the remains, but what else was there for him to do except draw what was left as close as possible?

The only path forward Andrew can see is the last one Eddie chose for them. Accepting this path means accepting the inheritances Eddie left him, including a house and ready-made friends in the form of a roommate named Riley Sowell and Riley’s mechanic/drug dealing cousin, Sam Halse—none of which Andrew wants. Andrew’s sole reason for being in Nashville, living with a stranger, and remaining enrolled in a graduate program he cares nothing about is to find out “what or who had taken Eddie from him.” His cripplingly repressive nature sees him ricocheting between wanting to rip the answers from the flesh of the strangers who hadn’t “kept Eddie well” and to mindlessly running away when offered answers or potential friendship or anything else that calls to his grief and vulnerability. The only offers Andrew freely accepts are his chosen methods of escape—drugs and street racing.

Andrew’s scattershot attempts at investigating Eddie’s death see him “acting on one impulse after another, hoping he’d find the right direction while dodging the shit he’d rather ignore,” like the real reason Eddie was drawn back to their birthplace, that one discordant note in the song of them—their connection to the dead. While Eddie remained silently fascinated, Andrew chose to forget…until Eddie forces his hand. Surrounded by the haunts of their past and wantonly drowning in his fears and unwillingness to see beyond Eddie, Andrew will finally have to make his own choice for life, death…or something in between.

As a Tennessee girl myself, I can’t help but be drawn towards the Southern Gothic horror subgenre, since various cultivars of deep, DEEP denial/repression (sweetened by generously given smiles and sugary politeness, of course) are still the regions’ most prolific crop, and I was curious to see which ones Summer Sons curated and how far down the roots grew. Lee Mandelo’s debut novel explores deeply-entrenched repression, masculinity, grief, systems of oppression, and the roots of their power wrapped up in angry emo angst, homoerotic posturing, and lovingly, viscerally described revenants that “[appreciate] the vital spice of terror when leeched from the living.”

As Summer Sons takes a deep dive into repression born of masculine gender norms and the various areas of inhibition this creates, the book is a very slow burn. Andrew spends the first half full of frothing desperation; all the things he and Eddie didn’t talk about leaking through his cracks, spilling from the box he’s kept them in for half his life and unable to pack them away again—open, vulnerable, and resolutely resistant to being that way. For Andrew, there is only Eddie, but for all their mutual dedication, much of their connection is an illusion. Because their friendship has been limited to the cage of appropriate heteronormativity (enforced vigorously by Eddie), Andrew has accepted that they can’t be “that way” and emotionally, mentally, and physically bolts at any whiff of queerness. His denial is so deep, he can’t even be honest with himself in the face of Eddie’s newfound acceptance and openness in their time apart; and being unable to be honest keeps Andrew from truly grieving and gives life to his haunts—Eddie’s self-centered/destructive nature; Andrew’s blind obedience; their skewed, co-dependent relationship; their queerness. Andrew can’t let go and heal because he’s clinging to this rot.

The reality of Eddie’s death, of being surrounded by Riley and Sam—the people Eddie had spent the final months of life with, the people comfortable in the house Andrew now owns but feels displaced in, the  strangers Eddie had shared their secrets with—and Andrew’s inability unwillingness to process his emotional agitation as anything other than gender-appropriate raised hackles and prickly combativeness or the dissociative translucency of drugs keeps him “hamstrung by his own destruction.” Andrew would literally rather by embraced by the cold, invasive remnants of Eddie than accept the support being offered to him.

And while I was sometimes frustrated when Andrew remained stubbornly still, Mandelo’s simple but evocative prose kept unexpectedly hitting home with a deft word choice here or unique turn of phrase there, helping me stay present and invested in Andrew’s journey until he begins to move forward. Andrews first bit of breakthrough is a culmination of Riley’s steadfast understanding and Sam’s brash forcefulness. In Halse, Andrew recognizes the same burning intensity and intangible want that burned in Eddie and himself beneath Halse’s brash, good-ole-boy charisma; recognizes that seductive threat of something Halse wields to entice and dominate his pack of “boys with fast cars and bad habits” as well as unerringly provoke the roiling emotions inside Andrew only to soothe them back down to a thrum with his vitalizing night races.

All the major secondary characters are a bit fuzzy around the edges, indistinct in the way of  early adulthood—remaking themselves from moment to moment and as they pass from group to group. They wear the messiness of human complexity closer to the surface, proclaiming to be “not great people” while offering up seemingly limitless friendship because they want to honor someone’s memory. Andrew’s coming of age is done in a drastic way (basically so subservient to Eddie’s personality, neither Andrew nor the reader know much about who he is by the end), but it works within the motifs of the book. Also because Mandelo does such a good job conveying Eddie’s personality and energy, the similarities between him and Sam almost make Halse an Eddie clone. Andrew draws the parallels between the two early on, and it takes a while after Andrew’s breakthrough and his growing closeness with the cousins to get to the important differences between them. So while not quite a clone, Sam feels like Eddie v2.0—fixing self-centeredness and privileged rich boy bugs.

For me, the most interesting and well-rounded character is Riley, with Eddie/Andrew’s friend Delia in second place. As the most harshly used character (especially given her lack of page time and early exodus), Delia gets the most complete emotional arc—from constantly shut out and at-odds friend to finally looking out for her own mental well-being. Although, I have to wonder if she received the closure/”better off without them” treatment to completely remove her from Andrew’s life in the most palatable way possible. Riley, as well as being Eddie/Andrew’s roommate, is also in the same graduate program and shares the same “wrong side of the tracks” background, recreational activities, and pragmatism as his cousin. Not only is Riley emotionally and mentally intelligent, he’s sensitive to haunts in a complementary way to Eddie/Andrew and does the heavy lifting when it comes to working around Andrew’s prickly, emotional boundaries, erratic behavior, and hair-trigger temper. Frankly, I felt like he is a healthier, more well-suited match for Andrew, but between Riley already having a girlfriend and a boyfriend and Andrew simply not being stable or confident enough in his own skin yet, Riley doesn’t deserve the headache.

While the incorporation/symbolism of the haunts and Andrew’s journey are fully fleshed out and interwoven almost seamlessly, for me other elements of repression Mandelo tries to incorporate, such as systemic racism/classism and the bloody history at their foundations, don’t fit in quite as well. The academic setting and the simmering, fraught tensions of privilege, entitlement, and the gray spaces of fairness in regards to intersectionality are used more as plot devices for the story-length investigation into Eddie’s death; they’re alluded to or mentioned in passing and at most possibly used to exemplify (justify?) some of the characters’ hubris, terrible reasoning, and dangerously faulty logic. While not as cohesive as the rest of the genre elements, I still appreciated the acknowledgement of these deeply entrenched issues.

Despite a few pacing hiccups and thin mystery, Summer Sons mines the alienation, isolation, and visceral fear and repression found in Gothic horror to tell an achingly familiar coming of age story that not only conveys the painful, overwhelming, and frightening experience of discovery and growth, but also the resiliency and hope that can be found in supportive, caring bonds.
Was this review helpful?
Andrew and Eddie were best friends, closer than brothers. Their level of attachment to one another went above and beyond what you would even expect of the closest of friends. When Eddie left Andrew behind to begin his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it was unsurprisingly a tough transition. At least from Andrew's perspective.

Six months later, just before Andrew was getting ready to join Eddie in Nashville, Andrew receives news that Eddie has died, an apparent suicide.

Now Andrew has inherited Eddie's house in Nashville, complete with a roommate he doesn't know, or necessarily want. Andrew is also left with the haunting suspicion that Eddie's death isn't as cut and dry as the authorities are making it out to be.

As Andrew begins to settle into the Nashville house, becoming involved in Eddie's University studies and his friend group, he learns there was a whole side to Eddie he didn't know. Street racing, hot boys, late nights, hard drugs, ominious topics of study and dark family secrets; Andrew doesn't understand how all of this could have been going on with Eddie without him knowing it. 

The deeper he gets into Eddie's secrets, the more out of control he feels. Not helping matters is the strange presence haunting him, wanting to possess him.

Summer Sons is a Queer Southern Gothic story incoporating a cut-throat academic setting with the dangerous and exciting world of street racing. With this description in mind, this should have been a great fit for my tastes. I did get some of the Southern Gothic vibes I was hoping for, as well as a desirable level of angst and grief. I also got a touch of academic atmosphere. Unfortunately, I also got bored and confused.

I did end up listening to the audiobook, which I actually feel is the only way I was able to get through it. I may have given up otherwise. The narrator was fantastic. I loved how he had the accent to fit the story; that's always a plus for me. I definitely recommend if you are interested in checking this one out, that you give the audiobook a go.

Overall, I think this just wasn't the story for me. The writing is strong, and I can get behind the ideas that set the foundation of the story, the execution just fell flat for me. I know a lot of Readers are going to absolutely adore this story, however, you can tell that already by reading other reviews!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I am glad I gave this one a shot and look forward to seeing what else Mandelo comes up with in the future.
Was this review helpful?
Graduate student Andrew Blur returns to Tennessee to investigate the apparent suicide of his best friend and adopted brother, Eddie, and uncovers a multitude of secrets Eddie was keeping from him - secrets that may have led to his death. Eddie's ghostly remnants cling to him every step of the way and hound him to unleash a dark, deathly power that Andrew has been denying since childhood.

Summer Sons is a gritty, Gothic, testosterone-drenched amalgamation of things that usually don't go together: the ivory towers of academia, drug-fueled parties, adrenaline-pumping street races, blood and guts and magic, Southern-typical racism, internalized homophobia, and the sacred bonds between men. The cinematic, sensory-filled prose blurs the lines between reality and nightmare; throughout the book, I could practically see the way it would unfold as a film. The pacing is measured and plodding, though the races and hauntings provide some excitement. Andrew, constantly drunk on grief and a parade of various liquors, careens from plot point to plot point, not so much collecting clues as stumbling into them. The climax was well-executed, but the resolution was unsatisfyingly brief.

In the end, I am uncertain what kind of reader will best appreciate this book. It's not like anything I've ever read, in a good way, but it's ultimately too weird for me to definitively say 'if you liked this, you'll like Summer Sons'. I'll keep it in the back of my mind for reader's advisory, but I wouldn't give it to the average patron without a lengthy conversation about their book preferences first.
Was this review helpful?
"Are you losing control, my good pal? The clock is ticking and you can't put him off for much longer. If you can't hunt down this stuff in time you're going to drag him into it, and if he responds to the source the same way you are, it's going to be a disaster...."
Summer Sons is a dark and melodic fever dream of grief, longing, and desire. The story draws you in with the gothic, haunting atmosphere and pulls you along Andrew's uncertain path and he navigates the confusion and loss surrounding his best friend Eddie's recent death and the questions he has about it.

If you are looking for a story with atmosphere to read this autumn, look no further. There's a southern gothic vibe with painful family legacies and dark deeds and curses. With the Vanderbilt setting, there are hints of academia vibes as well (but I wouldn't call this dark academia by any means as the college setting isn't used enough for me to classify it) that converge with the small town and changing season to add both nostalgia and and a sense of discovery - especially as Andrew begins searching through Eddie's research for answers about his death.

Andrew is a character who feels trapped - too caught up in the power of Eddie's memory and their relationship to focus on himself at all. Which is complicated by his ability to interact with haunts (or ghosts) and the negative impact they have on him. On his journey for answers, he is folded into Eddie's former life - Riley, Eddie's roommate, his cousin, Sam Halse, and others all intersect Andrew's life in complex and organic ways. The character interactions are all layered, nuanced, and clouded in uncertainty that keeps you engaged.

While I guess there is technically a mystery at the core of this story, it didn't read like a mystery to me. Summer Sons at it's core felt like an exploration of self and grief while confronting the loss of someone unimaginably important to you. The plot does meander at times, and the pacing is slow (mimicking the drawl of many of the characters) but you feel everything along with Andrew making this a thoroughly immersive and at times horrifying story.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Was this review helpful?
*Round up from a 3.5*

I have to say, despite the time that it took to get to the meat of the plot, I thought this was a great debut work from Mandelo. It was simultaneously dark, raw, gritty, and powerful. It explored some sensitive themes, particularly that of codependent relationships and finding one's sexuality. It was a little dark academia, plenty of young adults partying, a lot of emotions, with bursts of the supernatural woven throughout. Now even though I think the first half of the book did not contain nearly enough plot movement, I do think it gave us a good feel for the protagonist. It therefore led to some good character development for him by the end of the book. He starts off as this depressed, grieving man who has just lost the one person who meant everything to him; he's unsure of himself and his surroundings, but he's able to find some comfort and growth by the end of the book.

While we're talking about Andrew (the protagonist) and his emotions, let's talk about Mandelo's writing itself. I personally thought it was gorgeous. It was gripping and visceral, with this ghastly edge that worked perfectly within this book. The reader is really able to understand Andrew's feelings and picture the encompassing environment. Emotion is really big in this book, particularly understanding and accepting the emotions that are felt for others. I think that this was accomplished on so many levels. Just, the end part with the haunt and the memories (all vague so as to avoid spoilers), was so heart-breaking. It broke my heart to read it, it was such an effective portion of the book. Just, having to live with the knowledge of feelings that were never acted on and wondering "what if?"

The story itself was unique for the horror/thriller genre and the Southern Gothic subgenre which made it an interesting read. I won't say it was an easy read. Thematically, it was pretty dark and violent, making it difficult in that sense. The writing itself was lush, but very easy to comprehend, making it very accessible I'd say. So, it's easy to comprehend, but it can be difficult emotionally. But the darkness works very well with the plot and the Southern Gothic environment, as does the addition of the party scenes and the racing scenes. The parties and the racing allow for excitement, which keeps the story from feeling far too heavy. The things that happen in it like the possession, the dark family secrets, this power over death, were just really cool, interesting topics! On that note, if recreational drug use is a triggering topic for you, then this is definitely not the book for you. To be frank, this book was cool. There was also some awesome, pronounced representation for those in the LGBTQIA+ community and of unique relationships, which is always a positive.

On the downside, it did take so incredibly long for the plot itself to actually move along. The first 50% of the book (not an exaggeration) was mostly the protagonist basically avoiding moving the plot. He largely wallowed in his emotions and made very poor decisions. It wasn't necessarily boring, but it did kind of make it feel like the book was going nowhere at first. Like, we were just in for watching this man party himself to death while leaving Eddie's death a mystery. The climax was also rather underwhelming; it wasn't bad, just predictable. I wish that Mandelo had used the large chunk of the book that they reserved for watching Andrew kind of float around, to introduce more characters of interest. As it stood, by that same point, there was a very short list of who would have committed the crime convincingly. I just think there was more room for widespread suspicion in the beginning of the book. As it stood, it was kind of stark. On the same note, I felt like there were things about the antagonist that were high-key glazed over, things that I would have liked elaborated on. Specifically, I do love a good villain monologue at the climax of the action. I think more of a monologue would've been a good addition. 

In all, it was a good debut! There were some issues, as there are with any book. But taken altogether, it was a good book. And it was unique too, I've never read a book with the same energy as this one. I would have to call it simultaneously spooky, emotional, feral, dark, but also lovely. It was definitely my favorite read in September. I look forward to seeing what Mandelo comes up with next!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to TOR and Net Galley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Within a few minutes of starting Summer Sons, I expected it would be a DNF for me. See, there are two things I don’t fuck with in a novel: unpleasant protagonists, and plots centred around grief. Our main character in this story, Andrew, is unpleasant as hell. The story (through Andrew himself) is quick to tell you that it’s not just Andrew’s sorrow making him so ornery, it’s his usual character. He’s god awful to his friend-slash-ex-girlfriend Del, doesn’t spare his parents a thought as he moves away, and looks at every new person in his life as if they’re immediately a suspect. He drives drunk without a thought. I spent a lot of the novel longing for Andrew to find a good therapist and calm the hell down. 

And god, the grief. As someone who lost an important person in my life at a young age, the description of how loss disrupts your life and changes your priorities absolutely hollows you out. The author, Lee Mandelo, has to have lost something important to them. They understand all too well how angry it makes you, how irrational. And I normally can’t touch that stuff. 

So yeah. I almost stopped reading in the first chapter.  It something kept me going, and I’m so glad it did. The story is haunting, and the idea of discovering your sexuality and realizing your feelings for someone when it’s too late hurts all the way through. The prose is beautiful and the characters are so real. The spectres are eerie without turning the novel into a horror story. The mystery keeps you wondering right to the bitter end. 

Be forewarned that suicide is a main theme of the book, but if that doesn’t chase you off? I highly suggest you read this one.
Was this review helpful?
Summer Sons is a culmination of many of my favorite things: angsty men, trauma, cars, the supernatural, southern gothic, and academia, all while being intrinsically queer. It's a heavy story and I spent the first third of the novel feeling pretty miserable as our confused and grieving protagonist, Andrew Blur, tries to piece together the last six months of his late best friend's life. That's some powerful writing, the way I got so absorbed in the story and Andrew's head space. Andrew's a fascinating character and I also loved getting to know his new crew. They're all complex characters with their own faults and failings, grit and ride or die loyalty. While the majority of the characters are white, there are some supporting characters of color, as well as queer characters, and characters from various socioeconomic backgrounds, all of which provide unique insights and depth to the story and setting. Beyond being a rich character study, Summer Sons is incredibly atmospheric. Lee Mandelo perfectly captures the south in all its messy, sweaty, and sometimes spooky glory. I loved all the little details: iced coffee that melts too fast, rural accents, blazing hot pavement, and the summertime cacophony of cicadas. This is a story that ranges from poor, rural homes to old money mansions, bonfire parties and graduate level classrooms. It's a narrative the follows personal tragedy and terrifying hauntings while also weaving in larger conflicts revolving around privilege, power, and racism. There's so much pain and suffering, but there's also hope and new beginnings. There's magic and terror, first times and joy, heartbreak and recovery. There's a LOT and it's well worth digging into!
Was this review helpful?
4.5⭐ 
I am completely shook over how much I fell for this dark, eerie story.

This is one of those books that completely absorbs you and leaves you thinking about the story long after you put it down. 

This book is said to be dark, gothic southern paranormal and that definitely sums it up perfectly. You follow the main character as he returns to Tennessee for grad school in the wake of his best friends death. But it he figuratively - and literally - haunted by his friend's death. This is definitely more on the speculative side than fantastical (so don't expect any hard explanations of the paranormal aspects) and I loved the ominous tone the unexplained paranormal aspect brought. 

This heavily explores grief and personifies the main characters grief in the form a haunting. It's dark and heavy and difficult to read at times but I thought it was handled to perfection. Andrew is so frustrating at times because he gets so wrapped up in his own loss that he loses sight of those around him. But it also such a realistic depiction of grief.

I also loved that this explored sexuality in an older cast of characters. This entire book is queer and full of queer characters, but Andrew is in his 20s and still unsure of his identity. I really appreciated getting to see this arc explored in someone older (especially as someone who didn't embrace their queer-ness until their 30s).

Also, Lee Mandelo's writing blew me away. This is stunningly written. The prose, the pacing, the descriptions, everything was so fantastically crafted. I'm obsessed with this book and it's characters and I honestly cannot wait to devour whatever Mandelo writes next.
Was this review helpful?
I was highly anticipating reading this book based on the synopsis (and the Ronan Lynch aesthetic comparisons if I’m honest) and it did not disappoint!! While there is a definite mystery/thriller element to the story as the characters are trying to discover what led up to their friend Eddie’s death, a large part was focused on the main character Andrew’s revelations about himself and his past relationships as he deals with his own grief related to losing Eddie. Though I actually found many of the characters unlikeable, especially in the first half of the book, I liked how the author eventually reveals depths to them that make it easier to sympathize while not excusing their flaws. There was even a slow burn romance that I couldn’t help but ultimately root for based on the writing. The author is very purposeful with every line so this book definitely requires your attention while reading but the way the character dynamics and atmosphere are described were both strong points for me. It also delivered when it came to horror since several scenes were genuinely unsettling and creepy. Honestly a great book to read in the transition from Summer to Fall if you are into darker stories with flawed characters. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an early copy!
Was this review helpful?
Speaking as a reader whose first love is Horror, there are so many things I loved about Lee Mandelo’s debut novel, Summer Sons, though I can’t possibly enumerate them all without accidental spoilers, so suffice to say this story is bona fide Southern Gothic with chills lavished upon its readers in intense scenes entangled in the competitive world of academia, a little drag racing for you adrenaline junkies, recreational drugs, and a gradual unpacking of the relationship between the story’s protagonist, Andrew Blur, and Edward Fulton—Andrew’s brother on paper but in truth something else, something more, something undefined—all wrapped up in a frightening ancestral legacy and a horrifying incident when the boys were teenagers that still haunts Andrew in that word’s most literal sense.

When Eddie began pursuing answers about his family’s past and a curse instigated generations before by a Fulton ancestor, he did so under the purview of research for an American Studies graduate program at Vanderbilt University. What he tapped into was the makings of a devil’s bargain, some blood magic, and, tragically, he crossed someone who would stop at nothing to seize the power and potential of the family curse. Andrew’s arrival in Nashville to take up his own investigation into Eddie’s death eventually reveals the lengths someone was willing to go to, to bait the trap Eddie fell headlong into when that sinister someone came close to harnessing what they sought to control.

Through it all, Andrew struggles with the depth and breadth of his grief, where more questions than answers only serve to make that grief sharper and further obscures what Andrew had always believed he meant to Eddie. Andrew not only inherited a hefty sum of money and property upon Eddie’s death, he inherited an obsession to understand why Eddie had lied to him to keep him far away from Nashville. How Andrew is meant to find all the answers he’s looking for when some of what Eddie had discovered in his research is now missing, who the group of friends are that Eddie had become entangled with, and why Eddie’s murder was made to look like suicide when Andrew is seeing otherwise all serve to complicate the plot and keep readers as wrongfooted as Andrew feels.

Lee Mandelo’s writing is evocative and provocative, and they tell a complex story that draws upon the south’s history and exemplifies the genre itself, encompassing a robust cast of characters who not only help Andrew on his quest for the truth, but some of whom give Andrew leeway to understand the closeness and intimacies he shared with Eddie, though neither of them ever named it. Riley, the roommate Andrew inherited with the house in Nashville, and Riley’s cousin Sam, figure most prominently in Eddie’s friendships, which Andrew reluctantly inherited as well, thanks entirely to Sam’s persistence. The way Sam pushes and flirts with Andrew without being blatantly flirtatious involves those fast cars mentioned in the blurb, and the adrenaline high of drag racing and some hair-raising moments became an essential way of connecting Andrew with this group of people he’d had no intention of befriending; they were merely meant to be useful tools. I will admit, however, that as someone who sees cars as a simple means of getting me from point A to point B, the thrill of those scenes missed me even as I understood their usefulness.

The climax of the story gives fans of the Horror genre the adrenaline punch we expect and appreciate, which only leaves what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle between Andrew and Sam unfinished. Their resolution is left to the imagination of the reader rather than tied up in a neat and tidy bow, because in this genre “And they all lived . . .” is the only place to start.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

I have many mixed feelings about this book, most notably that I wanted to love it, but it didn’t quite reach that point. However this disconnect for me boils down to personal taste, rather than the actual quality of the novel.

Starting off with what I did love: the creep factor. As the novel picked up speed, the haunt that plagues Andrew made me feel more and more unsettled. When the full story of what exactly happened to Eddie and Andrew when they were kids was revealed, I was so creeped out I had to pause a moment to process what the heck I’d just read. It knocked the wind out of me - in a good way.

I also liked the character progression in this story. I started out disliking pretty much every character; I felt they were either boring or annoying, but when the story truly gained traction the characters became more rounded and less bland.

It was the first 50-ish% of the book that was a sore point for me. It was a lot of watching Andrew go around in circles, with a painfully slow progression of events. I don’t mind a slow burn, but this was too slow for my taste. The characters didn’t feel particularly relatable during this portion, either. There was a lot of intense masculine energy I couldn’t vibe with, and numerous scenes with cars and racing I couldn’t care less about, but again I think this all relates back to personal interest. I am glad I powered through, because the last half of the book was truly worth it.

I’d recommend this to anyone interested in a slow burn novel of self discovery and grief, with a gothic twist.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of Summer Sons from Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review. 

“Too many notes!” 

Remember that scene in Amadeus? We’re meant to laugh, of course—criticizing Mozart is inherently ridiculous—but this line came to mind more than once while I read Summer Sons, albeit with a slight adjustment: “Too many words!” Alas, Lee Mandelo is not Mozart, and Summer Sons is not the literary equivalent of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Let’s back up. 

Summer Sons follows Andrew in the wake of the death, apparently by suicide, of his best friend Eddie. Andrew subsequently inherits Eddie’s former life: his friends, his roommate, his graduate program, and the ghostly presence of Eddie himself. But Andrew does not believe Eddie died by suicide, and he begins unraveling the knot of relationships in which Eddie was entangled prior to his death. 

I’ll start with something Summer Sons does well—atmosphere. This book practically drips with sweaty, Southern Gothic vibes; once upon a time I had to sleep in a car in a Texas parking lot during the height of summer, and in Summer Sons Mandelo captures the oppressive, sweltering heat of nights like that. This is also a novel about masculinity, and while I personally find it hard to care about that topic, I don’t think the book handled it poorly. I actually would have preferred Summer Sons lean into its themes of toxic masculinity and repressed sexuality, because they are far more interesting than the mystery of Eddie’s death or any of the speculative fiction elements.  

Here ends the list of things Summer Sons does well. 

The most debilitating problem with Summer Sons is, quite literally, the number of words—or, more accurately, the ratio between the number of words and what is being communicated. It’s not just the excruciating detail—the extensive descriptions of how characters are positioned or the relentless step-by-step accounts of Andrew checking his text messages, which quickly become borderline unbearable—it’s that this book never uses ten words when it could use twenty, leaving every sentence swollen and bloated with empty calories. Here’s an example: 

“Andrew tapped the speakerphone icon and balanced the phone on his palm, saying, ‘Tell her hello from me.’” This could have been written as: “Andrew put him on speaker. ‘Tell her hello from me.’” An eighteen-word sentence becomes a ten-word sentence, and no information was lost along the way.  

Summer Sons also fumbles its handling of sensitive issues, namely race and suicide, although I can’t delve too deeply into either without spoiling the end of the novel. The importance of race to the thematic concerns of this book is explicitly acknowledged within the text and then casually dismissed rather than addressed in any meaningful way. Suicide is confronted more directly, but Summer Sons reinforces some fairly gross tropes about the topic which didn’t sit well with me. 

Three simple—not small, but simple—changes would have rectified the most egregious shortcomings in Summer Sons: 1. Cut the wordcount by 25-50%, depending on other changes, which would have done wonders for streamlining the pacing and facilitated a smoother, more engaging read. 2. Create a secondary timeline flashing back to Andrew’s relationship with Eddie prior to the latter’s death, which would have given the reader a reason to care about Andrew’s emotional arc. This also would have improved the pacing. 3. Make West (the only prominent Black person, and by far the most interesting person, in the book) a POV character, which would have allowed the novel to wrestle more deeply with its themes of race and sexuality in addition to (you guessed it) improving the pacing.

Some bad books leave me angry because they are devoid of redeeming qualities; that is not the case here. Summer Sons left me a little angry, but mostly it left me baffled, disappointed, and frustrated—the potential is there, and that potential could so easily have been realized by ruthlessly editing and reorienting the focus of the novel.
Was this review helpful?
You don’t have to be a believer in the paranormal or supernatural to have a healthy fear of the Appalachian Mountains and what deep, dark secrets lie beneath them. You don’t have to be a genius to know that the land itself in and around those mountains holds just as many deep and dark secrets, and many of those are more fresh and filled with blood and pain created not by geological time, but by humans themselves. 

I was very tempted, with my ADD, geography degree, and manic energy after reading this fantastic book, to go off on a tangent about just how old the Appalachian Mountains are and about formation and what lies beneath and about how there’s so much we have yet to discover about this ancient mountain range still, but I took a deep breath, took a step back, and marinated on what needed to be said about this book that people needed to hear. 

This book is set in and around Vanderbilt University, which is located in Nashville, which is located in Tennessee. So, from the start, we’ve got a private university that was paid for by Andrew Carnegie (a wealthy white man from the north) but presided over by a Methodist Epsicopalian Bishop who believed slavery was human nature, which is located in a confederate state whose eastern side is part of the Appalachians. There’s a lot to unpack there: socially, politically, economically, culturally… and this book dips a toe into a few of these things. It can’t help not to, because it all ties together. But this book is really about what people don’t like to talk about. The topics they try to skirt around. The ugly things: the blood soaked deep in the soil, the evil steeped in generations of people (and then the lack of evil in some people and the need to protect them from it), the pressure to publish or perish, systemic racism in academia, internalized homophobia, regrets, the things people will do to stave off death, and the things people will and won’t do for love. 

And, of course, it’s about cool stuff too: the ancient magic in the land, the sacrifices the land requires to maintain it, curses, hauntings, american folklore, revenants, street-racing, bad boys, drugs, drinking, and necromantic magic.  

This is, by no means, a fast read. Like the south tends to be, it moves slow. Reading this book is like taking a walk through black tar molasses while breathing that thick, humid air. 

Andrew, our main character, is going through the same thing, and that’s why we’re going through it. We must endure what he does, because this is his story, and we move as he moves. He’s struggling. He’s sluggishly trying to move through life ever since his best friend, Eddie, committed suicide only days before Andrew was to join him at Vanderbilt. He’s suffocating on all the things he never got to say, aimless because he doesn’t know how to live without his best friend, and he’s clueless about what to do with the fortune, friends, and research Eddie left to him. He’s completely lost save the one thing he’s absolutely certain of: Eddie didn’t kill himself. So we, the reader, have to sit in the passenger seat as Andrew throws himself helplessly at idea after idea, trying to grasp onto anything at all that will help him prove Eddie didn’t kill himself. Meanwhile, he’s trying to come to terms with feelings he’d long shut in a box and put a lock on, trying to figure out who he can trust and who he can’t, trying to figure out how to let go and have a good time while he can, and trying to keep a grasp on reality even as a curse that had bound he and Eddie together since childhood keeps trying to drag him down into the ground. 

This book is astoundingly good. It’s languid, horrific, slick, bloody, sticky, lazy, intense, sultry, cold, mysterious, frightful, and a well-deserved finger pointed at all of us as a reminder that no matter what you build on top of it, physical or otherwise, the land is the land, and the land holds multitudes of humanities sins.
Was this review helpful?