cover image Memories of Summer

Memories of Summer

Ruth White. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34945-5

White's (Belle Prater's Boy) familiar territory of Appalachia in the 1950s is the vividly drawn springboard to this tender, lyrical novel about mental illness. Sisters Summer and Lyric Compton are 16 and 13, respectively, when their Poppy decides to leave the sooty coal mines of rural Virginia for the booming automobile factories of Flint, Mich. Told in Lyric's evocative drawl, the story of their migration contains enough careful observations and insights to carry the tale all by itself. But it is Summer's descent into schizophrenia that emerges as the focal point. Acknowledging that Summer ""always did have funny ways about her"" (since childhood, Summer has been so afraid of electricity that she won't turn on a light), Lyric and Poppy are not quick to act when Summer's behavior and language grow more and more irrational. But as Poppy gets a job with Chevrolet and moves the family from a squalid apartment to a house of their own, and as Lyric makes friends and begins to say ""ree-al-lee"" and ""yous guys"" instead of ""no foolin'"" and ""y'all,"" Summer's illness encroaches on their lives in an increasingly demanding and dangerous manner. Summer's disintegration inspires confusion, anger and palpable frustration in Lyric before she finally understands her sister's plight. The result is a wise and thoughtful novel, painfully well realized and gently revealed. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)