Title: The Summer of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jen Ferguson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: May 10, 2022
In this complex and emotionally resonant novel, debut author Jen Ferguson serves up a powerful story about rage, secrets, and all the spectrums that make up a person—and the sweetness that can still live alongside the bitterest truth.
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 is spending her last summer before starting university working at her uncles’ ice cream shack on the prairies. Her best friend Florence is working with her, as well as her newly ex-boyfriend Wyatt, who she wasn’t physically attracted to, and her old friend King Nathan, who is visiting from Toronto. One day, she receives a threatening letter from her biological father, who is supposed to be in prison for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, her mother is away for the summer, and she doesn’t want to share her troubles with her uncles who are struggling to pay the bills. Lou finds comfort in reviving her friendship with King, while trying to figure out how to stop her father from destroying her and her family.
This was a very emotional read. Lou had a lot of trauma in her past, from what happened to her mother and generational trauma as a Native woman in Canada. I appreciated that the author had a note at the beginning that warned of some potential triggers that are in the book, and she said it was okay if you couldn’t read it at this time. I tend to avoid emotional reads but after reading that author’s note, I felt like I was in safe hands with this book.
This book dealt with serious issues, such as racism, rape, and sexual assault, but it was written in a beautiful way. Lou was half white and half Métis, so she could pass for white, which she did when she was in school. That was compared to her friend King Nathan, who was Black, and couldn’t pass for white. Lou’s biological father threatened to take her family’s land from them, which reflected the way the land was stolen from the Indigenous peoples in Canada. Though these were serious topics, this story was beautifully crafted.
Most of this book was difficult to read because of the trauma that Lou and her friends faced, and if it’s difficult to read on a page, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to experience these things. At the same time, I’m very glad that this story has been written for a younger generation, and I’m glad that I read it.
What to read next:
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Have you read The Summer of Bitter and Sweet? What did you think of it?