book review: The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison

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THE SUMMER CHILDREN by Dot Hutchison
★★☆☆☆
Thomas & Mercer, May 22, 2018

Well. All I have to say about Dot Hutchison’s Collector series is: nothing gold can stay.

Dark, twisted, and gripping, I thought The Butterfly Garden was altogether pretty brilliant. But Hutchison’s followup novel, Roses of May, provided a starling (and in my opinion, utterly grating) tonal shift, abandoning a lot of the creepiness of the first novel and coming across as ultimately rather juvenile. I was hoping The Summer Children might bounce back and show a hint of The Butterfly Garden‘s greatness, but I’m afraid this had nothing to offer but more of that obnoxious fan-servicing cutesy humor that plagued Roses of May. I mean, in theory, The Summer Children should be dark. It follows FBI agent Mercedes Ramirez as she investigates a series of murders by someone who’s attempting to ‘rescue’ children from abusive households by killing their parents. The last thing I should be thinking is ‘why does this have to be so goddamn twee,’ but here we are.

This kind of goes hand in hand with my criticism of the book’s tone, but what’s so insufferable about Roses of May and The Summer Children is how obsessed Hutchison is with her own protagonists. Sure, they’re all flawed (in super palatable ways), but they’re also the most competent and considerate people in the universe, and we need to be reminded of it again. and. again. There are entire scenes that serve no narrative purpose but to self-congratulate. Is it not bad enough that we have to revisit Mercedes’s proclivity toward being honest with the children she works with on about twenty separate occasions, do we really have to laud it each time?

Maybe it’s just me, but I like stories that dig into human imperfections – characters who say the wrong thing and can’t take it back, characters who react inappropriately in dire situations, characters hurt the people they love by mistake. There is none of that here. Mercedes and her team can do no wrong, and we need to pat them on the backs every time they know exactly what someone needs at exactly the right time. And that’s another thing – the found family trope is usually one of my favorites, but the way Hutchison writes it is so heavy-handed I spent most of this book cringing with secondhand embarrassment.

Speaking of cringing – this is a passage I highlighted not only because of the corny writing, but because it was probably the fourteenth or fifteenth time the word ‘scar’ had jumped out at me in this book. “Scars mean we survived something, even when the wounds still hurt.” Anyway, so I did a search on my Kindle, and do you know how many times the word ‘scar’ is used? Twenty-seven. Talk about being bashed over the head.

Bottom line is that I was not the target audience here, and I ordinarily don’t hold this kind of thing against the book as much as I am doing right now, but I can’t help but to find it irritating that all the maturity of the first book sort of evaporated in the second two. I guess this can’t technically be classified as YA as the protagonist is in her thirties, but trust me, if you do not enjoy YA, read The Butterfly Garden as a standalone and move on.

Thank you to Netgalley, Thomas & Mercer, and Dot Hutchison for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

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10 thoughts on “book review: The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison

  1. Like you, i also enjoy reading about characters who screw things up. It kind of make me feel better about myself in some ways.
    I only read the Butterfly Garden and was quite happy when i realised it was a series. I will continue with it eventually. Although not sure when. I’m kind of in a weird mood lately and read a lot of random things outside my usual scary/dark/thriller genre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean, I get in those moods too. Right now I’m really only clicking with literary fiction – I keep reading thrillers and they’re not hitting the spot for me, and it’s a real ‘I don’t know what I expected’ moment each time I dislike them, when I KNOW that all I’m in the mood for is literary fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ugh YES! The Roses of May had me cringing so badly with secondhand embarrassment I had to put it down partway through. What a thorough disappointment from her first book, which like you said, was creepy and gripping. When I saw this book was coming out I was really interested in seeing how people would feel about it after the mixed reviews for Roses of May. It’s a shame to hear she never lived up to her original writing standards. Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh my god I am so glad to hear you say this because I hadn’t seen ANYONE ELSE complain about how juvenile the second book was??? Like, are we all just tacitly accepting how corny this is because we loved The Butterfly Garden so much?? I had to put The Summer Children down at one point because I was cringing so hard at this exchange where Priya asks Mercedes if she’s okay, and Mercedes says yes, and Priya’s like ‘it’s okay to not be okay, you know’ like FOR GOD’S SAKE this is an ADULT THRILLER not a Lifetime special. Also, speaking of Priya, the inclusion of her and Inara in this book was so fan-servicey it had me rolling my eyes so hard. There was absolutely no narrative point to them being there, but we were treated to long scenes of them skyping with the FBI agents because look how CUTE this found family is!!! Ugh.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Right??? It’s utterly baffling. There were like…… two moments in The Butterfly Garden where I was like ‘yep this author definitely has a background in YA,’ but for the most part that was a DECIDEDLY adult thriller. I have no clue how her editors let these two books slide when thinking about the audience she’d cultivated with TBG. Talk about wasted potential.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. […] 4. The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison. I loved The Butterfly Garden but the next two installments of this series were… not good.  All of The Butterfly Garden‘s maturity kind of evaporated and we were left with two books that were almost painfully juvenile.  What could have been an intense and harrowing read ended up being hard to take seriously as we were treated to hundreds of pages of FBI agents having sleepovers and reminding each other that it’s ok to not be ok and other similarly obnoxious moments of transparent fan-service.  And the extent to which Hutchison is obsessed with her own characters is more than a little embarrassing to read – we have to endure paragraph after paragraph of the protagonist being praised by the narrative for her competence and it’s just so tiresome.  Full review here. […]

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