“Comic book geek Wesley Hudson excels at two things: slacking off at his job and pining after his best friend, Nico. Advice from his friends, ‘90s alt-rock songs, and online dating articles aren’t helping much with his secret crush. And his dream job at Once Upon a Page, the local used bookstore, is threatened when a coffeeshop franchise wants to buy the property. To top it off, his annoying brother needs wedding planning advice. When all three problems converge, Wes comes face-to-face with the one thing he’s been avoiding—adulthood.
Now, confronted with reality, can Wes balance saving the bookstore and his strained sibling relationship? Can he win the heart of his crush, too?”
Recent high school graduate Wes has been in love with his best friend Nico for years, and he’s decided that the summer before they both take off for college is the perfect time to declare his heart. Things don’t go as planned, but that’s where the heart really comes in. The Summer of Everything starts off as frothy and bubbly, but in patented Julian Winters fashion quickly becomes something deeper and more meaningful. This isn’t just a summer romcom beach read but a story, of growing up, of self-discovery and self-actualization, of the perilous exploration of identity.
Crucially, although Wes is the main character, this isn’t just his story. The love interest and secondary characters are as real and flawed as the protagonist. They feel like they have lives outside of Wes and his drama and are not just there to give him someone to react to. All of the characters are privately comfortable with their identities – in Wes’s case being queer and biracial – but are publicly struggling with how open to be and to whom. One character comes out as acespec and their negotiation about whether they should come out and how much to reveal to Wes is achingly familiar. (I’ll add that Winters is one of the few allosexual authors who I trust to accurately portray asexuality; he doesn’t patronize or condescend, and he gets the details right.)
Wes, really all the characters here, are locked into negotiations, with themselves and others. The adults in their lives keep telling them who they’re supposed to be, and their childish dreams and perspectives are guiding them the opposite way. As young adults, it’s up to them to figure out whether to compromise or contradict. This is a familiar refrain for contemporary young adult fiction, but Winters builds out this trope around queerness and coming out and coming to terms and coming together.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also talk about Wes being biracial. Winters is so good at breaking down this experience. There are no stereotypes, nor does Winters define Wes by contrasting him with other white or Black people. Being biracial isn’t being “half” of two races, it’s being both simultaneously and being something else entirely. Wes is still sorting out what it means to be both biracial and Black, but Winters frames that as his journey, not as something others are defining for him. When I went through this process at his age, I wish I’d had the same support from my friends and family that he does.
Julian Winters is an auto-buy author for me. His characters are adorably endearing, his stories romantic and charming, his writing style engaging and earnest. He speaks the cold, hard truth about the way society treats its most vulnerable while celebrating and empowering diversity. His works crack open your heart with effervescent honesty. And The Summer of Everything, his latest YA contemporary novel, is no exception.
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour.
Julian Winters is a best-selling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions and How to Be Remy Cameron (Duet, 2018 and 2019 respectively), received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. Running with Lions is the recipient of an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award. How to Be Remy Cameron was named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection and received a starred review from School Library Journal.
A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow—volleyball and soccer. His third novel for Duet Books, The Summer of Everything, will be released in September 2020, to be followed by Right Where I Left You from Viking Children’s/Penguin in 2022.