Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book Review: "The Gypsy Moth Summer" by Julia Fierro

The fact is, I'm not a fan of bugs. I recognize they're all God's creatures, I know that some bugs actually help the environment, and the demise of certain bugs can spell peril for our world, but that doesn't change the simple fact that (most) bugs creep me out. And don't even get me started if I see/feel one crawling on me.

I probably should have considered this when I decided to read Julia Fierro's The Gypsy Moth Summer, which takes place in the summer of 1992, when gypsy moths invade Avalon Island, off the coast of Long Island. So many times in the book these bugs were crawling on people, landing in inopportune places, swarms of them were making noise, and I cringed the whole time. The preface of each chapter even had information and drawings of the caterpillars and moths. I can't stop itching...

Okay, moving on now. The Gypsy Moth Summer is about a community under siege from natural and unnatural, human and insect causes. Avalon Island is ground zero in the battle between the haves and the have-nots—the perfectly manicured, coiffed, and bred citizens of East Avalon versus the tougher, working class residents of West Avalon, which also is home to the island's main source of income, Grudder Aviation, birthplace of planes and bombers that fueled the nation's victories when at war. But suddenly, Avalon residents are getting sick with unexplained cancers, and people are wondering: is Grudder to blame?

When prodigal daughter Leslie returns to Avalon with her African-American husband and biracial children in tow, it turns the island upside down. While the more progressive residents are thrilled at Leslie's happiness, even her devil-may-care attitude, the welcoming, accepting spirit isn't shared by everyone on the island. And while the resident group of teen mean girls from East Avalon have nothing but disdain, one of them, Maddie, whose family background straddles both sides of the island, finds herself falling head over heels for Brooks, Leslie's son. But there are many not content to let that happiness be.

I felt many times while reading this that Fierro was trying to capture the spirit of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies, with a little bit of Mean Girls thrown in. All of the elements were there—those living with privilege and those without, secrets, scandals, mysteries—but it didn't quite capture either the suspense or the camp of Moriarty's book.

Fierro is undoubtedly a talented storyteller, and she did a terrific job evoking the imagery of the island as well as the different personalities which made up the cast of characters. But I felt in trying to create drama, she threw everything she could into the plot—disease, racism, abuse, animal cruelty, sex, even class warfare. Between all of that and the shifting narration, it became a little confusing at times.

I've seen a lot of great reviews of this book, so if the elements of the plot appeal to you, I'd encourage you to read it. You certainly won't be disappointed by Fierro's writing ability—as long as you can stomach the bugs.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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