Gemma Marr Reviews Andre Fenton’s The Summer Between Us
The Summer Between Us
About a third of the way through Andre Fenton’s new novel, The Summer Between Us, the main character, Adrian Carter, is in conversation with his girlfriend, Mel. The couple is discussing the different paths open to them in the year following high school graduation.
As Adrian thinks about the options, he is told: “Do what you want to do . . . even if you have to endure a little discomfort along the way. It’s worth it, you’re worth it, and you can’t let anyone tell you different.”
This tone of determination, and the importance of recognizing one’s self-worth, runs throughout the novel, which follows Adrian as he mulls over different university programs or whether to take a year off to travel, struggles with his parents and friends, and his developing sense of believing in himself. Through it all, Adrian is open and honest with readers as he considers his past, present and future, offering a vulnerable reflection on life as a Black teenager in Halifax.
Like Fenton’s previous novels, The Summer Between Us navigates through a variety of difficulties facing young adults. Here, Fenton includes an often overlooked issue: eating disorders.
Adrian has kept his eating disorder secret from most of his friends and loved ones. Mel and an online group, which he helps to run, are Adrian’s key pillars of support in his recovery. Through this focus, the novel raises important questions about the pressure on teenagers (and adults) to look a certain way, the measures some take to achieve these harmful standards, and the resulting shame and silence.
Crucially, Adrian is not beaten by these social pressures but instead becomes motivated in his recovery. He becomes a key support for others struggling with eating disorders, and runs sessions during a local boy’s group to get conversations started on this subject and others.
Because Adrian’s struggles also partly stem from fears around his father’s acceptance, the novel frequently ruminates on the constraints of masculinity and the bounds of family. At one point he reflects, “Family is deeper than who we’re connected to by blood. Family is measured by who shows up, and who you show up for. Family are those who’ll work through issues instead of pushing them aside. And family has always been around me, even if I didn’t see it clearly.”
Likewise, because Adrian is Black, he faces discrimination in different moments throughout the text. These altercations highlight the whitewashing of spaces like music venues. These moments also reflect how the community Adrian builds around himself is cemented through the conflicts they face and overcome.
Overall, the novel approaches difficult and important topics with tenderness and care. In so doing, The Summer Between Us opens a dialogue around the broader means through which these pressures circulate. Each key obstacle confronting Adrian and his friends is linked to wider systemic problems that require attention in order to be changed or dismantled. In this way, the novel offers readers the chance to recognize how these systems work within, are held up by, or can be troubled through their own practices.
At its core, The Summer Between Us is a fresh coming-of-age novel that uses the summer between high school and university as a microcosm for character development. As Adrian relates, “Things were moving so fast, and I was afraid to let go. I wanted to be in the moment, instead of having it slip into a memory. I wanted to stay in the present, like a gift I wanted to keep.”
Through such reflective moments, Fenton effectively navigates a variety of hard topics and pressing issues, all within an engaging story of love, loss and the excitement of possibility.