July 25, 2021

Summer Fun

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This is a heartbreaking yet hopeful addition to the growing canon of literature that celebrates the complexity of trans lives.
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It’s been nine years since the publication of Jeanne Thornton’s debut, The Dream of Doctor Bantam, and her second novel, Summer Fun, has been worth the wait. Dizzying and deliciously weird, it’s a sprawling yet intimate story about music, hidden trans histories and the transformative act of creation.

Gala, a trans woman living in small-town New Mexico, is obsessed with a classic 1960s pop band called the Get Happies and their mysterious lead singer, B       . In a series of remarkable letters to B       , full of whip-smart observations and dark humor, Gala slowly reveals the true story of B       ’s life and music, shedding light on herself in the process.

This is no ordinary epistolary novel. Thornton discards convention, choosing instead to use the form to explore the possibilities of cross-generational queer and trans conversations. Gala’s letters act as a kind of portal, a manifestation of trans magic. She addresses B        directly, often inhabiting the singer’s thoughts and emotions. Gala tells B       ’s story from the inside, as if she were the one who lived it. Each letter is a small act of discovery, an unfolding mystery. The unique epistolary format makes space for deep connections, not only between Gala and B        but also between Gala and the reader. It is impossible not to read these heartfelt missives without becoming wholly invested in her world.

Reflecting on the impossibility of authenticity in the music industry, Gala muses as B       , “No one gets to sound like who they are; that isn’t how success operates.” But Thornton proves this isn’t always the case. Gala’s narration is singular—assured, sarcastic and yearning. She’s determined to tell her story, as well as B       ’s, through her own particular lens, unrefined and vulnerable, full of messy contradictions. Thornton’s plotting is masterful, her prose elegant and her characterization nuanced. But it’s the emotional heft of Gala’s narrative voice that sets this novel apart.

Summer Fun is unpredictable and delightful, structurally innovative and epic in scope. It’s a heartbreaking yet hopeful addition to the growing canon of literature that celebrates the complexity of trans lives.

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