“Dear Mr. Devil, Sir Satan, Lord Lucifer, and all other crosses you bear: I cordially invite you to Breathed, Ohio. Land of hills and hay bales, of sinners and forgivers. May you come in peace. – with great faith, Autopsy Bliss.”
At its heart, The Summer that Melted Everything is a coming of age book in a small town. What makes this book different, is that it takes place in Breathed, Ohio, during a summer where the devil goes to visit. However, the devil isn’t all horns and evil, but a lanky 13 year old black boy with loads of wisdom.
This book is narrated by Fielding Bliss in two different timelines. One is him during the summer of 1984, where the events took place, and one is about 70 years later, when Fielding is an old, bitter man reminiscing. I think one of the things that kept me so captivated in the book was this. I wanted to know what had changed so much during that summer that affected Fielding so much.
Tiffany McDaniel is masterful in her writing. She easily transitions between the “past” and the “present”, while also drastically changing the tone for each one. In the past, you can see Fielding’s innocence, his 13 year old self curious at the world, while in the present you see a changed 84 year old man, a man bogged down by his demons and by what happened in that fateful summer in Breathed, Ohio.
“Breathed was a the combination of flower and weed, of the overgrown and the mowed. It was Appalachian country, as only Southern Ohio can be, and it was beautiful as a sunbeam in waist-high grass.”
Not only that, but the writing is incredibly atmospheric. I could almost feel the intense heat, the thirst in the back of my throat, could almost believe I was walking along the dirt-laid lanes of the town.
“And not one of you is to use the N-word. […] I swear I wish people were forced to make a list of names and recite them every time they use that word. A list of the names of every black man, woman, and child hated, beaten, killed for the color of their flesh. It should be law—by God, it should be law—that if you say that word, you must then say their names. No one wants to say one word and then realize it means so many more.”
This book tackles many subjects in an incredible way, mostly because of the way the author both painted a real picture of themes a small town in the 1980’s would go through while still also combating those ideas in-text. Amongst the themes presented in this book (and some of these are trigger warnings), there can be found: racism, homophobia, extreme violence, AIDS, religious extremism, abuse, suicide, etc. Please, if you feel like reading this and aren’t sure because of certain triggers, contact me and I’ll gladly elaborate.
This book is definitely not your “and they all lived happily ever after” kind of book. It highlights how a person is not just wholly good or wholly evil; how sometimes choices are made for us and sometimes what we don’t choose is a choice in itself. This book has many heartbreaking moments, but also many touching ones. Reading this book will most definitely change your life.
“I think of all the devils I’ve seen in my long life. I know now how brief the innocent, how permanent the wicked.”