The author of this book, Tiffany McDaniel, reached out to me and asked if I could do a review of her book. I had just read of blurb of it early that week and thought it sounded amazing, so I jumped at the chance! I was also lucky enough to get to an interview with Tiffany which you will find below.
But first up, the book. Thanks to Netgalley for supplying an ARC.
This is one of those books I needed a few days to think about after reading before I could write a review. I also have to wonder if my reaction to it may have be different if I'd read a paper copy instead of an e-book. I tend to read paper books in bigger chunks than e-books and this may have been a book that needed to be read over a short period of time, rather than in snatches on public transport.
I was expecting this to be a YA book. It isn't, and that's probably an important thing to know going in.
One day a man invites the devil to visit his small town in a public notice in the local newspaper. When the devil accepts, he’s a thirteen-year-old black boy named Sal, and as soon as he turns up in town, the temperature rises and any number of horrific events start taking place.
The big question the book asks is whether these horrific events are actually the fault of the ‘devil’ or of someone else. The town is certainly quick to blame Sal because he's different, but can a scrawny kid really be responsible?
It’s gorgeously written. The descriptions of the town suffering under the intensity of a heat wave are so evocative I found myself wiping sweat from my brow even when reading it outdoors in the middle of winter. The character descriptions are equally beautiful and the people in the book just surge from the page as fully formed human beings.
That said, I never truly engaged with the characters and didn’t feel for or with them in any really meaningful way. It’s almost like the beauty of the language distanced me from the people and events playing out on the page.
That and the fact the story takes place over two time periods, one where an old man Fielding looks back at his life and one where Fielding is a child. I found it difficult to reconcile the older versions of Fielding with the child we’re with for the bulk of the book.
I realize people change as they grow older, but there seemed to be nothing left of the child Fielding in any of the grown men we’re allowed access to through the old man’s memories. And I didn't like who Fielding became, It's like he gave up on life and decided just to drift through it rather than deciding what he wanted out of it and going for it. The younger Fielding wasn't like that at all. Maybe the devil took his ambition when he left….
The other thing about the time shift is that the devil arrives in Breathed in 1984. The old man looking back is in his eighties, so around 60 - 70 years has passed since that summer, yet the world Fielding lives in now doesn't look or feel any different than the world we live in today. His home is a trailer that doesn't appear to be any different to a trailer one would find in a trailer park today. No historical events are referenced in the past, so it's difficult to remember that this story is being narrated from the future.
It’s a shame I didn’t engage more fully with this book because the themes and ideas are important ones and ones I usually feel very strongly about: racism, intolerance, homophobia, mental illness and more. But I would still recommend it because of the beauty of the language and the sensory descriptions. If I’d had a highlighter beside me, I can guarantee there would be passages underlined on almost every page.
If that isn't enough to convince you, here's the blurb:
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere - a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he's welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he's a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
And if that still isn't enough to convince you, here's an interview I did with Tiffany McDaniel.
If you could swap places with one of your fictional characters for 24 hours, who would you choose to be? Why? And what would you do that day?
I’d say I’d choose to swap places with Sal. He’s the thirteen-year-old boy in The Summer that Melted Everything who comes to answer the invitation inviting the devil to the town of Breathed, Ohio. Sal is a mystery even to me, so I’d say for those twenty-four hours I’d be on a mission to follow his earth tracks on way to find where he comes from, if it is indeed hell or not. And hopefully by the end of those twenty-four hours I would know his origins. I would know his true name.
In what way is your story unique compared to other books in this genre?
I’d say one of the things that makes The Summer that Melted Everything stand out is the uniqueness of the story line. A man decides to one day put an invitation in the newspaper inviting the devil to town. And the invitation is indeed answered. The genre is literary fiction, so what sets my literary fiction apart is that there’s the hook of who this boy is that answers the invitation. You want to find out everything that did indeed melt these people, that summer, and everything else.
What part of the story was the most fun to write? The most challenging?
I’d say one of the best parts to write was the dialogue of Sal, because I’m in essence writing the dialogue of the devil. For me, writing isn’t the challenge but one of the things I had to pay careful attention to was balancing out Sal’s dialogue of when he was the “fallen angel” and of when he was a thirteen-year-old. I had to find that balance that made him believable in both roles.
Which of your characters is most like you?
I’d say there’s a little bit of me in each of them. Hopefully there is more of me in the heroes than there is in the villains.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
I remember a scene when I was a kid. I don’t know if it was in a movie or something I read in a book, but I remember a boy being able to heal a bird after it had broken its wing. I’ve always thought that would be a pretty great power to have. To be able to heal and take away pain and suffering with just the touch of my hand. And also flying. I’d love to fly as well but no would really reap the joy from that superpower as much as I would.
If you could reenact a scene from any book (not necessarily your own), what would it be? Who would you choose for your scene partner(s)?
One of my favorite passages in literature is in To Kill a Mockingbird. The scene between Scout and Atticus when he’s telling her it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. There are so many scenes from so many books, but this one is coming to mind now. So I’d be Scout and my scene partner would be the original film Atticus. Gregory Peck. It’s a scene of warm comfort and beautifully articulated verse that has a lesson for us all.
Tell us something we’d be surprised to learn about you.
I wish I was with Howard Carter when he unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamen.
What other interests do you have outside of writing?
Reading. Art in various mediums from watercolor to prisma pencils, charcoal and acrylic. If it can be sculpted or painted, I’m all into it. Gardening. I love digging in the dirt. I’m hoping one of these days I dig deep enough to find something as ancient as the dinosaurs. I love the stars and space and reading about all the theories of what churns the skies.
Do you have a nervous habit when writing? A guilty pleasure when writing? (example: chew a pen to death or have a stack of Hershey’s kisses while you write)
And finally, here's a book trailer for The Summer That Melted Everything.