*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Summer of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jen Ferguson
Publisher: Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice-cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend—whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort—and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word. But when she gets a letter from her biological father—a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life—Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists. While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever.
Lou has got to be one of the most interesting and unique characters I’ve come across. In her final summer before starting school, she’s trying to improve who she is, but between the breakup with her current boyfriend, the return of a friend with whom she’s got a complicated past, the constant onslaught of racism and sexism faced by the young Indigenous women including herself, and her journey to discover her sexuality, Lou finds her self sure of absolutely nothing at all. Hers is a story of self-questioning and self-discovery. She knows there’s a lot that makes her unique, but she’s on a path to uncover parts of herself that she never even guessed existed.
This book begins with a generous and thoughtful letter from the author to outline the many trigger warnings in this book. Be aware, there are intense discussions of sexual assault, rape, racism, sexism, abuse, alcoholism, and drug use. This is a difficult book to get through and it certainly may not be the right time for you, reader, to pick this one up. But at some point, it might be your time. Ferguson tackles all of these difficult topics head on, with a character who has faced a lifetime of many of these issues, and is new to others. Underneath all of the horror though, this is a story of love, friendship, healing, growth, and love. Rising from the darkness, this book does carry a message of hope and shows how even in the darkest of times, there is always light.
While I love the themes and the story that’s told within these pages, I have to admit that I found Lou to be the most dense and almost willfully obtuse character I’ve ever encountered. Her personal journey of growth is so inspiring, but the way that she deals with the most difficult and pertinent issue that puts both her and her family all at risk is beyond infuriating. I almost had to walk away from her story because I couldn’t handle her not opening up to the people who could easily help her the most. There is an immediate threat not only to her safety, but to her family’s well fair and safety as well. Instead of talking to a relative or loved one with some manner of influence, she keeps it to herself, putting her friends in harm’s way as well as her self. It also allows the situation to escalate to a near breaking point before she chooses to talk to those who have any degree of influence. I understand that we all have secrets, and for some people it’s incredibly hard to open up particularly when it comes to one’s own individual safety. But the potential that this threat has to upend and irreparably harm so many people would be my personal Number One Trigger to get at least one trusted adult involved. Sigh.
If you can get beyond the stubbornness, than I would highly recommend this book. I can guarantee that it’ll be different than anything you’ve ever read before. And I promise, that’s a really good thing.