The lowdown from Goodreads:
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.
Bugs bugs bugs bugs bugs. There are so many bugs in this book! I had never heard of a gypsy moth before, but I cannot stop thinking of them now. Caterpillars hatching everywhere…
In all seriousness, Julia Fierro has created a captivating world in The Gypsy Moth Summer. I am Really Into fictional capsule worlds, and Avalon Island is definitely encapsulated. Off the coast of New York, Avalon Island is a place that has little influence from the outside world and seems to live in another time. While I was reading, it in some ways reminded me of a Southern Gothic setting with segregation of rich and poor, racism, and the rich white people’s coveted, outdated way of life coming to an end.
The thing about an isolated island is that it doesn’t take much to disrupt it, so when the summer of 1992 comes along with a plague of insects and a new biracial family, it is more than Avalon can handle. New people and old secrets come out and the island will never be the same. It is told from the view of six different people with decidedly different agendas and backgrounds. I always appreciate the perspective of different story tellers in a novel.
I did enjoy the book, though I think it may have taken on a little too much and could have benefited from a tad bit of streamlining, but that is being nit picky. Overall the book was well written and enjoyable, and I was deep into the world of Avalon Island. I thought that the teenager Maddie was the most well drawn character, and the one whose story I couldn’t quit reading and I am still thinking about today. It doesn’t hurt that I was a teenager in the nineties, so this book evoked countless memories for me.
My favorite part of this tragic story is how vividly I could see the island. I felt like I could hear the bugs and see the homes and the gardens. Fierro did a great job capturing a time and a place and I really felt part of the world. I am Really Into This book and Julia Fierro, however I will not miss those moths!
Special thanks to Julia Fierro, St. Martin’s Press, & Net Galley for providing our copy in exchange for an honest & fair review.