The Gypsy Moth Summer
by Julia Fierro
St. Martin’s Press (June 6, 2017)
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2017
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“Fierro doesn’t just observe, she knows. Like all great novelists, she gives us the world.” – Amy Bloom, bestselling author of Away and Lucky Us
It is the summer of 1992 and a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon Island. Ravenous caterpillars disrupt early summer serenity on Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island–dropping onto novels left open on picnic blankets, crawling across the T-shirts of children playing games of tag and capture the flag in the island’s leafy woods. The caterpillars become a relentless topic of island conversation and the inescapable soundtrack of the season.
It is also the summer Leslie Day Marshall–only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family–returns with her husband, a botanist, and their children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate. Leslie’s husband Jules is African-American, and their children bi-racial, and islanders from both sides of the tracks form fast and dangerous opinions about the new arrivals.
Maddie Pencott LaRosa straddles those tracks: a teen queen with roots in the tony precincts of East Avalon and the crowded working class corner of West Avalon, home to Grudder Aviation factory, the island’s bread-and-butter and birthplace of generations of bombers and war machines. Maddie falls in love with Brooks, Leslie’s and Jules’ son, and that love feels as urgent to Maddie as the questions about the new and deadly cancers showing up across the island. Could Grudder Aviation, the pride of the island–and its patriarch, the Colonel–be to blame?
As the gypsy moths burst from cocoons in flocks that seem to eclipse the sun, Maddie’s and Brooks’ passion for each other grows and she begins planning a life for them off Avalon Island.
Vivid with young lovers, gangs of anxious outsiders; a plotting aged matriarch and her husband, a demented military patriarch; and a troubled young boy, each seeking his or her own refuge, escape and revenge, The Gypsy Moth Summer is about love, gaps in understanding, and the struggle to connect: within families; among friends; between neighbors and entire generations.
“THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER plunges the reader into a hazy, hot daydream of hidden truth, scandal, and racial prejudice. With bold strokes, Julia Fierro creates a vivid world where privilege and class are merely a veneer to distract from the cracks beneath the surface.” — Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of SMALL GREAT THINGS and LEAVING TIME
Penny had been far beyond the margins of Bitsy’s clique when a seizure in sixth-period chemistry led doctors to the tumor in her brain. A status that had scored Penny overnight popularity, and an invitation to join Bitsy’s crew — penned in Bitsy’s own bubbly script on her personalized stationery. Good for one official membership in the FRESHEST DOPEST gang of bitches at East High!
He knew he played that game to give his ego a charge when it felt like a dead battery, and while it felt good to hold people’s prejudices up to their faces like a mirror, he always felt shitty after. A self-righteous hangover.
The Colonel’s favorite afternoon snack was a beer and chunk of Limburger cheese, which made the fridge at the big house smell like diarrhea farts.
Maddie had given her a gift. A book filled with inspirational quotes from Miss Winfrey. The kind of thing people read on the toilet. She’d memorized all of Queen Oprah’s words.
They were the kind of boys people didn’t trust. That was why she’d had to pick them. She had counted on their anger, their frustration, their pent-up lust for power, which, she’d known, since she was a girl, burned brighter in boys than even their need for sex and money.
The Gypsy Moth Summer contained an ambitious, well-crafted, and busy storyline that was hip-deep with compelling, eccentric, and unusual characters, characters who were not always likable or even admirable but were unfailingly intriguing and well embellished. The plot was highly nuanced and sneaky; it was full of tricks and captivating twists that held me prisoner, stole my breath, interrupted my sleep, and also had me cringing on several occasions.
A variety of physical and social ills had befallen Avalon Island, a small island off the coast of Long Island; an antiquated microcosm of society populated by the powerful country club member/war-mongering/factory executives on the East Side, and their working class factory employees on the West Side; all intent on continuing their proud history of creating aerial war machines despite peacetime and the despised liberal political landscape of 1992.
Various narrators took turns providing us with their insights and observations, each with their own mysterious agendas – which were often at odds with the each other. Each was holding tight a multitude of dark secrets, profound fears, longings, regrets, and long-held and well-earned hatreds. In addition to an uncomfortable and highly distracting insect infestation of moths, were the more deeply seated and long-term issues that plagued the population such as various cancers, substance and domestic abuse, bigotry, neglect, mental illness, an unknown vigilante tagger stirring up trouble and inciting unrest, as well as inbred corporate greed and corruption.
I was enthralled, physically tense, chewing my lip, and more than a bit anxious as I read, which is typically what occurs when I fall into an exceptionally well-written tale. It may have broken off a few pieces of me by the end, but hours after finishing I find I remain firmly entrenched in their story and continuing to ruminate over their words. Julia Fierro has mad skills and a new fangirl!
JULIA FIERRO is the founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, a creative home to more than 4,000 writers in New York City, Los Angeles and online. Her first novel CUTTING TEETH, was praised by The Boston Globe (“at once modern and timeless”) and The New Yorker (“a comically energetic début”). A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julia lives in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.