cover image A Summer of Fever and Freedom

A Summer of Fever and Freedom

Chelsey Engel. Labor of Love, $13.59 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-578-52252-4

Engel’s debut offers an engaging plunge into the unrest and excitement of 1969 New York. Jane Martin, 18, grew up in Brooklyn and plans to attend Sarah Lawrence College to study literature. At a party in the city, she meets 23-year-old Maria Valentino, who works as a writer at an activist newspaper. Maria, who was disowned by her mother when she came out as a lesbian, has a best friend in her roommate, Kay, a gorgeous, vivacious drag queen. Kay is injured during one of the Stonewall demonstrations, but his wounds heal quickly, and Engel illustrates the intoxicating effect of Kay’s and Maria’s resilience on Jane (“To experience joy in who one was, one must know who they are”). Maria and Jane are attracted to one another, though Jane is just beginning to understand her own sexuality, and they plan to attend Woodstock together. Jane’s brother Stephen, a Vietnam veteran, agrees to drive them, and as they wait in the rain-soaked field for Joan Baez to take the stage, Stephen espouses his theory about the festival’s meaning (“we’re all here searching for something”). The unpolished prose can be distracting, but the author shines in her descriptions of new love. Engel shows promise with this tale of self-discovery. (Self-published)