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.