The Summer That Melted Everything is nothing like I imagined. Looking in turn at the title, the cover and the blurb, I might have guessed YA love story, fantasy, magical realism. The Summer That Melted Everything is all and none of those things. What’s actually inside this book is so raw, so painful, and so wildly original that I’m struggling to place it in a genre at all.
Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel is set in Ohio in 1984, the year that Apple launched the Macintosh computer, that Marvin Gaye was shot by his father, and that the devil came to join the Bliss family. The devil is Sal, a 13-year-old boy whom the town think must be a runaway from a nearby village—but Sal is adamant that he is Satan himself, and before long, as terrible accidents begin to occur under the scorching sun, people begin to believe him…
The story is told from the perspective of Fielding Bliss, the youngest son of the particularly unusually-named Bliss family (his father and brother are called Autopsy and Grandfather!). The scalding hot summer of 1984, in which the devil comes to Ohio, is shown to us in Fielding’s memories, framed by flash-forwards to his present-day self. The elderly Fielding is disturbed, lonely, and suffering from a survivor’s guilt that foreshadows something truly horrific. But as much as these flash-forwards hinted at tragedy, I never guessed quite what would happen—and I certainly never guessed the jaw-dropping twist revealed almost as a throwaway comment in the final pages.
Every single character in The Summer That Melted Everything has a story. We see where they’ve come from, we see their fates, and in every instance, we deeply, deeply care. The writing is rich and stifling; wading through sentences feels like wading through that thick, hot summer air that catches in your throat and weighs down your limbs. Reading this book, I felt actually heavy with sadness.
The Summer That Melted Everything is not exactly an enjoyable read—it’s too upsetting for that adjective—but the second I turned the last page, I felt ready to start right from the beginning, even if it meant hurting all over again. There’s such a strong message here, one that is forever relevant, and that’s a large part of why I want to lap this novel up on repeat. This book is painfully good, and you can bet that I’ll be recommending it to anyone that asks for a long while.