"It is the things that happen to you which no one else knows about that make you important in life," says Haley Ellyson in this captivating first novel about loss of innocence and the ties of passion and friendship. Set in Houser Banks, Mississippi, a fictional town frozen in time, Suzanne Kingsbury's debut is an intense and evocative tale of young people coming to terms with the legacy of racism over the course of a sultry Southern summer.
Deserted by her mother and raised by her whiskey-drinking, gun-shooting father, beautiful Haley has broken the heart of every boy in town. Yet she hides two intimate and explosive secrets that empower her just as they threaten to undermine everything she holds dear. Haley is engaged in a dangerous flirtation with one of her father's friends when Fletcher Greel, the Judge's son, comes home for the summer, having just graduated from a New England prep school. Fletcher's friend Riley is in love with a blues-singing black girl named Crystal, and Fletcher falls instantly for Haley. These four soon become inseparable, intoxicated by love, desire, and the new-found freedoms of late adolescence.
But Houser Banks is a small town where attitudes hearken back to a time of racism and hatred. As the summer wanes, disapproval of Riley and Crystal's romance takes increasingly violent turns, and Haley's secrets surface to devastating results.
An enormously talented young writer, Suzanne Kingsbury has crafted a pitch-perfect, cinematic first novel rich with unforgettable characters, mesmerizing prose, and smoldering sexual tension. A fresh and vivid rendering of timeless themes, The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me captures the exhilaration of first love and the consequences of rebellion in a place resistant to change.
Secrets as oppressive as Mississippi heat weigh down Kingsbury's debut novel. At the very beginning, 16-year-old Haley Ellyson of Houser Banks, Miss., lets her skeletons out of the closet, revealing that she helped bury a black man in the woods behind her house and that she is having a clandestine affair with her father's best friend, Bo Dickens. Though the secrets are intriguing, the burial is alluded to so rarely that it seems almost a figment of Haley's imagination, and her affair with Bo is so heated and pitiful it becomes grotesque. The saving grace is Kingsbury's handling of Haley's relationship with her first real love, Fletcher Greel, son of the town judge. Home for the summer of 1987 after graduating from a Connecticut prep school, Fletcher is the opposite of the rough and aggressive Bo. Kingsbury adds depth to the characters of Haley and Fletcher by alternating chapters between them and by going beyond standard teen lust to explore more unexpected, conflicting feelings. The young lovers spend the summer with their best friends, Riley White and his blues-singing black girlfriend, Crystal, who are increasingly harassed by the town's rednecks. As the tension mounts, the lives of both pairs of star-crossed lovers are put in jeopardy. Kingsbury's pacing is uneven, but her lush, evocative descriptions of river swimming, night driving, sweaty juke joints and cool country stores and her ability to delve into the hearts and minds of her characters carry her over the few bumpy spots in the plot.