Bitter Sun – Beth Lewis

It all started when we found the body.
Then nothing was ever the same.

The Dry meets Stand by Me and True Detective in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small mid-Western town and the four kids who uncover it.

In the heatwave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder. But they dig too deep and ask too many questions.

Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the unrelenting heat ruins the harvest, and the people teeter on the edge of ruin.

As tension and paranoia run rife, rumours become fact, violence becomes reflex. The unrest allows the dark elements of the close-knit farming community to rise and take control.

And John, Jenny, Gloria and Rudy are about to discover that sometimes secrets are best left uncovered…

Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has travelled extensively throughout the world and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and great white sharks. She has been a bank cashier, a fire performer, and a juggler. She now lives in Oxford with her wife and daughter.

My Review:

Bitter Sun is a novel set in Larson, a small mid western town in America in the early 70’s. This is a story of the coming of age of 4 young teenage kids who discover a body during a long hot summer heatwave. With Vietnam headlining the news and the town facing economic ruin, Bitter Sun takes a long, hard look at family and friendship, love and fear, abuse and power.

The story is narrated by John Royal, a 14 year old boy who lives on a dilapidated farm with his alcoholic mother and younger sister Jenny. John is fiercely protective of his younger sister who is constantly physically and mentally abused by their mother whilst she openly favours John and treats him with love and affection.

John and Jenny have been friends with Rudy and Gloria since childhood and the four of them are inseparable. Whilst spending the afternoon in their secret den, they discover the murdered body of an unknown young girl which the town seems to want to hush up and ignore. John and his friends are traumatised by this discovery and decide to investigate the murder themselves.

This is NOT a light read, in fact it’s very distressing, with elements of child abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, bullying, mental health issues and violence. It took me several days to read this book, because of the subject matters.

There is no doubt Bitter Sun is an atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful character-led story which will affect the reader deeply. This book has been described as Stand By Me meets True Detective and I was immediately transported to the hot, sticky, oppressive heat in the town of Larson and following these 4 vulnerable youngsters navigate their way through a truly horrific event whilst dealing with their own personal family issues was heart-breaking.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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