We in the Literary Empire do not normally read Contemporary; but an exception was made for Cold Summer. “Oh my!” You may say. But yes my dear, this Literary Empress has broken through her boundaries and started on something new— almost.
Well, maybe Cold Summer is not exactly contemporary, but it is as close as I will ever get. Contemporary with Time Travel! What’s not to love? I’m dubbing Cold Summer as The Time Traveller’s Wife meets The Notebook, and you will have just as many feels. What Gwen Cole does with nuanced characters, family ties, and personal willpower, is something I have been searching for. These characters are an exquisite work of art.
Synopsis from Sky Pony (PS. Thank you for the advance reader!):
Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.
When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.
For someone who never reads contemporary, and may be a bit bias against romance, Cold Summer has exceeded any expectation I had. Why, Em? What happened? Let me tell you.
Gwen Cole creates a powerful dynamic between family members in a way that is realistic and deftly crafted. Between Harper and her uncle, between Kale and his father, between the reader and this world. In my personal opinion, I haven’t read any book similar, one with more emotion charged in every word, or one that portrayed time travel is such a way that is realistic, as in Cold Summer.
Craft alone in this book is something to marvel at. Each scene is sculpted and shaded down to the smallest details, highlighted in vibrant colors that last long after the last page, after the last heart wrenching moment. And let me tell you, there were plenty of those so have a tissue box readily available. The use of the smallest of details, from scent to texture, brings these characters to life on the page. Which brings me to Kale.
Yes, his name is Kale (not Gale thank goodness; I cannot stand that name after what he did to Katniss), and it’s perfect. While I cannot claim anything on account of PTSD, I feel like it was shown in a way that feels realistic. How small things trigger his unease, the fear of not known when it will happen, the void Kale has in his inability to control himself. Again, I cannot say it whether it is right or wrong; but for me, it’s an understandable way to present PTSD.
And then there’s Harper. She may be the girl-next-door, but she’s endearing in every way. She’s like the best friend you call and talk to about nothing; she’s always there, always present, always a voice of reason. Harper is the video-gamer cliché done right, down to her untied Converse.
If I haven’t convinced you to give this book a try, I could order you. But where’s the fun in that? With 4.5 Stars, this book is a highly recommended read for my court, and may you all have tissues nearby because this emotional rollercoaster is worth the ride. Gwen, you have created something magical and vibrant, something that is so beautiful and nuanced I applause you and your craft, and I cannot wait to see where you go next. A truly stellar debut.