Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Cruel Summer by Bernard Jan


Cruel Summer by Bernard Jan
Published in Croatian as Okrutno ljeto by Dvostruka Duga in Croatia in 2014. English language translation by Bernard Jan and Claudette Cruz published on the 28th February 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


All he wants to do is skate. But they have other plans for him.

Michael Daniels is seventeen and dreams to enter professional skateboarding contests. But beneath New Manhattan, a city under the oppressive shadow of climate change, exists another world altogether—secret laboratories which threaten society as he knows it.

Those with power will get what they want. No price is too high, even if it means making someone special or robbing them of their dignity, freedom . . . or life.

The price is too high for Michael, though. He has endured his stepfather’s abuse and mind games for almost as long as he remembers. Until one day he takes matters into his own hands, ruining the lives of those he loves most. And his skateboarding friends, Alien and Victor, are his only hope for freedom.

When there is no hope left, friendship is what remains.

Cruel Summer is a very different novel to the books I have previously read by Bernard Jan so it was interesting for me to see how well he can adapt his poetic writing style to different genres. I would primarily identify Cruel Summer as a young adult novel because it centres on a teenage skateboarding community, but the narrative also encompasses shades of dystopian science fiction and crime fiction, going to some dark psychological places at times. This fluidity did mean I found it difficult initially to really get into the story and I was several chapters in before I felt I had a proper grip on the storyline. The juxtaposition between the novel's futuristic apects and its retro setting confused me at first although I did love Jan's nods to the trends and fashions of the late 1990s - X-Files and The Celestine Prophecy being ones that particularly brought back memories for me.

The relationships and loyalties between Michael and his friends are an important part of Cruel Summer. Their conversations allow readers to gain insights into how these skateboarding fanatics view their environment. Michael is the traumatised boy at the centre and Cruel Summer is very much his coming of age story, but I felt the eponymous summer was equally as decisive for his absent sister, Rebecca, and his closest friends, Victor and Alien, each dealing with their own crises. The New York setting is vital too and I loved that Cruel Summer is one of those novels where its location almost becomes a character in its own right. That kind of authentic grounding is important to me as a reader and I certainly appreciated it here. 


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Bernard Jan / Young adult fiction / Books from Croatia

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