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Tilla doesn’t want to spend the summer in Jamaica. She’s not nervous about hurricanes, like her mother. The source of Tilla’s anxiety is her father who she hasn’t seen in over a year–and who she hasn’t forgiven for abandoning her family.
But when Tilla and her little sister arrive in the Jamaican countryside, she finds even more cause to worry. Her father is out of town for weeks and her aunts, uncles, and cousins do their best to make her feel unwelcome. It seems like everything about her is wrong on the island: her poor command of Patois, her “mod” Afro, the clothes she wears, the fact that she has had the opportunity to go to school–all of it brands her as a rich foreigner. The only bright spot is her friendship with her cousin Andre, who also faces discrimination from the family since his skin is darker than everyone else’s. As Tilla struggles to fit in and to find some sort of relationship with her father, the casual bullying of her extended family takes a dark turn, leading Tilla to question her identity and self-worth.
HURRICANE SUMMER explores some of the same themes as THE POET X (family, religion, the sexualization of girls) but in a heavier, more dramatic way. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the novel warning of sexual violence, and I appreciated the heads up as the story turned darker. That said, while this novel is not brimming with hope, Tilla’s strength and her refusal to break under the bullying–or to let the bullies break Andre–kept me going through, and I’m still thinking about the issues it raised days later. Also, the immersive world-building of summer on the island is thrilling. For readers who enjoy darker contemporary YA, especially about dysfunctional families, this is one that you’ll want to grab!