While reading this 320 page YA supernatural/contemporary book-I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. When finished- I was bothered that certain threads weren’t resolved, now that I’ve ruminated a bit- I think the vagueness of the author’s prose in sharing her “fever dream” on paper has lingered and the gaps not as troublesome. The author’s OWN voice Afghan-Uzbek Muslim identity adds layers to a story that is both haunting in the literal sense and familiar in the immigration inter-generational traumas and secrets shared. Even deeper though, the book pokes at universal themes of regret, holding on to the past, family, friendships, and grief. The book’s characters identify as Muslim, but the story is not Islamic, nor is there much religion save a few salams and mentions of Eid. The supernatural elements in the book, whether you understand it to be ghosts, or personified memories, or jinn, are a large part of the book, but are not framed in a belief or spiritual manner, and while some may find it Islamically off-putting, I felt the book explored what the main character was enduring and what the weight of the past was doing to her, didn’t necessarily cross the haram line. Her father has a girlfriend he is looking to marry, but it isn’t celebrated, and there are close male/female friendships, but the book is relatively clean for the genre and would be a good fit for high school readers and up.
Summer on Long Island has Sara retreating into herself. Surrounded by nearly a dozen aunts and uncles and numerous cousins, it is the separation of her parents and trouble with her best friend that makes getting out of bed every morning a challenge. As a result, her mother ropes her in to helping with her latest remodeling project. When she enters an old crumbling house one morning to take “before” pictures, she starts seeing things, and feeling things. Things about her past. Things about her beloved grandma, Bibi Jan, who is alive and deteriorating from dementia. What is the house trying to tell her? Why won’t anyone tell the truth?
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the mystery and the chills of the story. As the reader you aren’t entirely sure where the story is headed, what you are to do with the bits of the puzzle you are given, but the intrigue to find out pulls you forward. That being said, the book does reads debut, a few of the side story lines are not fleshed out enough to feel important, satisfying, or resolved and they come across as being abandoned. I would have liked to see more of Sara and her father’s relationship, the details don’t seem to fit, and the continuity seems halfhearted. At times so does the “night” it all changed with Sam. I like the interpretive vagueness of the supernatural threads and that they are up for interpretation amongst readers not just at the end, but throughout the book. I also like the family’s closeness even when they are disagreeing. For most of the book Sara and her cousins aren’t portrayed as particularly close and I didn’t invest time to differentiate one from another, but by the end, I felt that they were grounded and different and relatable, and I am not sure when that change occurred. At times the writing seemed a bit repetitive, but the lyrical style would then catapult the story ahead. There was one place that the fourth wall was broken though, and I was bothered by that slip.
Overall I loved that the Uzben Afghan culture sprinkles showed immigrant nuances, and that the love between the generations countered the trauma being shared as well. The messaging is subtle but powerful long after the last page has been read.
For the most part the book stays clean, the father has moved on and has met someone he would like to marry, the mom and aunts briefly recall sneaking out to attend a prom decades earlier. There is mention of a child bride, and swimsuits, tank tops, and cocktail dresses being worn with no second thought. For a YA book, the flags are incredibly minimal, save the “ghosts”(?). There are flags of a death that is detailed, the book is “spooky” at times, there is mental health, divorce, pain, dementia, abandonment, theft, running away, and fear.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would love to read this book with some high schoolers. It is a quick read that would allow for a lot of self reflection, arguments, and entertainment. The book is available here and releases in a few days, so if planning to purchase, please consider preordering and showing your support.