Florida, 1935. Heron Key is a small town where the relationships are as tangled as the mangrove roots in the swamp. Everyone is preparing for the 4th of July barbecue, unaware that their world is about to change for ever. Missy, the Kincaid family's maid and nanny, feels that she has wasted her life pining for Henry, whom she has not seen since he went to fight on the battlefields of France in WWI. Now he has returned with a group of other desperate, destitute veterans on a government works project, unsure of his future, ashamed of his past. When a white woman is found beaten nearly to death in the early hours, suspicion falls on Henry. Old grievances and prejudices threaten to derail the investigation. As the tensions rise, the barometer starts to plummet. The residents think they're ready, and so do the soldiers. They are wrong. Nothing in their experience could prepare them for what is coming. For far out over the Atlantic, the greatest storm ever to strike North America is heading their way...
Summertime is the powerful, emotive, tension filled début from Vanessa Lafaye. Like the hurricane that is almost a character itself in this book, the story picks you up, holds you in its grip and spits you back out only after it has put you through one hell of a ride. Right from the gator incident in the opening chapter you know you are in for a frightfully good read. This book is different to anything I have read before as the author was brave to take on so many issues for her first book and handle them in such a manner that you came out rooting for almost all of the characters. In Vanessa Lafaye I think we have found the new queen of building a dramatic, action packed, suspenseful novel that grips you from beginning to end. The historical note at the beginning was welcome and gave me a nice bit of background information as to what was going on in the Florida Keys in the 1930's at the time as I had never read anything set in this period before.
The author writes so beautifully and moves the book along at a rapid pace, instantly you are transported to the humid, muggy, sweltering Heron Key where racial injustice lives uneasily alongside the well to do whites. Not forgetting the war veterans isolated on their squalid camp building a bridge the government have given the go ahead to. Their presence in the town makes the residents uneasy. The horrors of the war are still imprinted on these men and many have turned to alcohol as a means of escape. The overwhelming feeling I got from this book was one of oppression - of the blacks, of the war veterans and weird as it made sound the heat and approaching hurricane. The whole way through the book despite it's many storylines is just tension filled as the residents wait for this major storm which may or may not hit their town. Whilst preparing for the hurricane they have to deal with many ongoing issues and towards the end put their differences aside to work for all their greater good. This book is literally like a pressure cooker waiting to explode and the author does such a good job that you are on the edge of your seat both outraged at some of the carry on of people but hopeful the storm will pass by and leave people to begin building relationships and breaking down barriers.
Admittedly I did find at the beginning there were many characters to get to know and the story did jump from place to place. I felt the author was trying to fit too much in to start with. But once I got to know Missy, Selma, Henry, Hilda, Dwayne and everyone else I found I was lost in their lives and was intent on discovering what fate had in store for them. So much happens throughout this book it is impossible to go into detail. A wide range of issues are covered the most important being the racial tensions at the time. The whites and blacks are kept separate on the beach and blacks are served at the back door of the shop. That literally made my mouth drop how did people endure such blatant disregard and hatred towards them? Not being able to eat at the same diner as white people and being made to feel like a second class citizen must have been awful to endure. An incident in the shelter at the onset of the storm made me very angry and the open hostility and menace towards Missy and her family was just mind boggling. Alongside the racial storyline and the problems with the veterans was the mystery of Hilda Kincaid's murder which only serves to heighten the overhanging feeling of impending disaster for everyone. Of course some romance was thrown in and I did wonder if this book needed that but in the end I realised it helped the book come full circle.
The description of the hurricane and it's devastating impact was utterly mind blowing. You could feel it's mighty force and power as it touched land and destroyed the landscape, people's homes and hearts. It put all the characters problems to one side as mother nature reared her ugly head almost in retaliation for all the things the residents of Heron Key had done. I couldn't read quick enough as page after page of horror and devastation was described in such phenomenal detail that normally would put me off a book. In this case the author had done a fantastic job of setting the scene, developing the story lines and the characters that she just let rip as everything came to a head. Yes it is very hard to read what happens and you will need tissues, she does go into graphic detail but if she hadn't it would have been a let down as so much time and effort had been put into making the reader care about the characters and the outcome. I wanted certain people to get their come comeuppance and others to be seriously hurt or die. Yes it's horrible to say that but some of them were just utterly ruthless and shameful. 'An irritable wind had sprung up to worry the washing on the line' is a line that sums up just what happens in this book. It's more than a wind that puts the worries and concerns to the forefront of the minds of the people living in Heron Key. Vanessa Lafaye has done a stellar job in making me more aware of the social history of America and confirming what a skilled author she is. God this woman has a way with words that has left me utterly captivated by this story.
This was gripping, edge of your seat stuff where your heart was literally in your mouth for the second half of the book. Vanessa Lafaye has packed an awful lot into her first novel that makes you think where will she take us next. She is a powerhouse and a bright new talent that will earn legions of fans with this book. No words can do this brilliant book justice, it's an unputdownable must read. Go buy it now.