Although ice cream is a delicious and refreshing way to solve many issues, it can only do so much for the problems of Lou in The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, a new YA novel with ace representation.
Thankfully, I happened across this one on an ace representation book list, otherwise I might not have even known of its existence. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a young adult contemporary novel in which eighteen-year-old Lou works at the ice cream shack owned by her uncles Dom and Maurice in Canada. It’s the last summer before her best friend Florence moves away and Lou goes to university—-naturally, they want to make the most of it. But working at the ice cream shop is not only Lou and Florence, but also Lou’s recent ex-boyfriend Wyatt and a past close friend back for the summer, King Nathan. Unfortunately, Lou has bigger problems to worry about than an awkward shift, such as her uncle’s financial burdens, how Native and Black people are discriminated against in a rural white community, and vaguely threatening letters left by her father, who just got out of jail for the first time in her life. After her mother leaves for an extended trip to tour her beadworking art and sell earrings, all these conflicts begin to build upon Lou. She misses her mom greatly, but she has to be strong without her.
The main element of this book that drew me to it, aside from the cover, is that it has ace representation. Part of the reason Lou breaks up with Wyatt is because she’s starting to realize she doesn’t experience sexual attraction, eventually identifying as asexual/demisexual. About midway through, there was a moment when I became apprehensive of the representation; Lou is contemplating her lack of attraction and mistakenly attributes this to the circumstances of her conception (that is, that she does not feel attraction because her father had raped her mother). If this were so, it would be very disrespectful to the ace community. However, later in the book, Lou does come to understand that this is a valid orientation and not necessarily caused by trauma.
Lou is also Michef, and while she has tried to hide this part of her identity in the past, she is now trying more to embrace it and own her heritage, even if it means she is harassed for it.
My favorite character from this story is easily King, the goodnatured ex-friend who is trying to fall back in sync with Lou. In the past, she has lied to him, and they are both very aware of this in their interactions. He is very sensitive and a great friend to Lou, which she really needs.
On the other hand, while Florence was sweet and sour, her bipolar disorder did not feel properly explored near the end. In general, the ending was wrapped up a bit too conveniently, having relied too heavily on the “I can’t tell anyone about this” mentality, when all issues were easily solved once Lou communicates with her family.
A final criticism is that the writing sometimes felt unclear, especially when transitions between scenes felt muddled or thought processes not thoroughly enough fleshed out.
I did greatly enjoy this book, and pleased I was able to read it during the summer.
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