The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, by Jen Ferguson, has a perfect title. Rarely does a title match the text quite so brilliantly. The title, however, is just the beginning of Ferguson’s excellent young adult novel, which will enchant readers of all backgrounds. The book is full of rich character development and multiple stories which center around love and identity.
The protagonist of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is Lou, a recent high school graduate who is spending the summer working at her uncles’ ice cream shop. The ice cream here is different than what you would typically see in a grocery store, because its flavors are based on the native plants in this area of Canada, where many Metis people still live. The book describes the conflicted, and sometimes violent, relationships between white and Native residents. In fact, one of these incidents is the reason why Lou is alive in the first place.
Lou’s parentage is just one way that this book balances both bitter and sweet. Her relationships with friends, her uncles, and romantic partners all come with both of these elements. This is so intricately woven into the story that it only became apparent after finishing the book. Lou’s understanding of romance is colored by experiences of women in her past as well as her own relationship history. Lou is one of the few asexual or demisexual characters that I have encountered in young adult literature. The story is told in her voice, which could be very empowering to individuals who are feeling similarly.
This is one of the best young adult books that I have read this year. It is a complex, thought-provoking, and rewarding text to engage with as a reader.
Identity 3: I know that all my group identities and the intersection of those identities create unique aspects of who I am and that this is true for other people too.
Diversity 9: I relate to an build connections with other people by showing them empathy, respect and understanding, regardless of our similarities or differences.