Book Review: “Speaking of Summer”

Esteemed Chicago writer Kalisha Buckhanon offers the story of Autumn Spencer, the protagonist in the novelSpeaking of Summer.” The book starts as a mystery, twists into a dangerous thriller, shifts into a romance, and it finally sprouts into a journey of finding self.

The reader is taken to modern day Harlem and thrown into the hectic life of a working single woman living in a brownstone. Add a suddenly missing sister, and the reader is quickly involved in the focus of Autumn’s life, her twin sister Summer.

The police’s limited interest in her missing sister adds to Autumn’s stress, and eventually (over several months) her friends and family disassociate themselves from the event and leave Autumn nearly alone in her search. Summer’s boyfriend Chase and a helpful official, Montgomery, become her allies. When a murder suspect is identified, the mystery leans towards a thriller and Autumn becomes obsessed with linking the accused murderer to the missing Summer.

With family and friends distant, Autumn’s dependence on Summer’s boyfriend takes an unexpected turn and a romance develops. The compulsive search for her sister interferes with Autumn’s employment and finances … and dating her missing sister’s boyfriend has her guilt rising. Autumn Spencer is in quite a state.

Buckhanon’s story is filled with descriptive images and scenes that place the reader in the story, and this placement is required while reading the text— this is not a book to read while multi-tasking. The plot employs explanatory flashbacks that develop a complex character who the reader is quickly tied to; Autumn Spencer’s life, her wants and her experiences are tangible to the reader.

The story takes an unexpected turn when Buckhanon adds Autumn’s mental health challenge to her stressors. Mental illness spins Autumn in a whirlwind, and the reader spins along with her. The reader witnesses Autumn’s denial, rejection, and eventual acceptance of the illness. Witnessing Autumn’s confusion and her slippage of reality promotes a level of empathy seldom experienced in fiction.

Buckhanon allows the reader and Autumn to learn that she is sick, and the treatment requires her to investigate her past. To move forward and to gain “control” of her thoughts becomes paramount for Autumn. The psychological disorder has Autumn fragmented, and the reader witnesses her grabbing for pieces of self. The healing process is gradual.

Due to the story crossing genres— mystery, thriller, romance, and self-help the read is demanding, but observing Autumn’s survival is a rewarding experience.




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