Picking a book can be difficult. A synopsis gives a good idea of what the book will be about, but sometimes it’s just not enough to really sell it. But when the synopsis mentions “queer Robin Hood,” an “all-girl punk band,” and a “fantastical transformation” all at once, it’s pretty difficult to pass that book up. And when I say “Summer in the City of Roses” by Michelle Ruiz Keil lived up to the weird, wonderful, and wild promise of its synopsis, I mean it. Even more than the synopsis suggests, this book was all kinds of splendid chaos from start to finish.
Iph (Iphigenia) Santos Velos is an aspiring actress who finds her self-consciousness gets in the way of her big dreams of center stage. She loves her younger brother, Orr (Orestes), who she’s spent all her life protecting. The two of them had always been close, and part of a loving family with a talented dancer for a mother and a renowned architect as a father.
But when their mother goes away to a dance residency in California, the two kids and their father find life without her is more difficult than they thought. Their father allows Orr to be kidnapped by a boys’ bootcamp to make him “normal.” Outraged, Iph storms off into downtown Portland, where she meets George, who gives her a place to stay while she searches for her brother. Meanwhile, Orr has already escaped the bootcamp, and is staying with local punk band The Furies.
At times, what I previously called splendid chaos becomes a little too crazy and confusing, making it difficult to enjoy the book without thinking “What did I just read?” after every chapter. Especially towards the end when the characters undergo their “fantastical transformation,” all realism goes out the window, and what was previously a traditional fiction novel becomes a fantasy without much warning. There are also jarring time shifts and flashbacks, but nothing noting it, so it takes a while to realize that that’s what’s going on. It’s also generally hard to tell how much time has passed over the course of the book, and what seems like a week was only a day, or the other way around.
In general, it’s a good book, and I do recommend it, but I just want to give a warning that it’s a little all over the place, and sometimes that messes with the flow of reading. Looking past that, though, “Summer in the City of Roses” was a great story with interesting and diverse characters, a unique plot, and a very strong message about love, acceptance, and healing.