Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "Heron Key is already weighed down with secrets when a random act of violence and a rush to judgment viscerally tear the town apart. As the little island burns under the sun and the weight of past decisions, a devastating storm based on the third-strongest Atlantic Hurricane on record approaches, matching the anger of men with the full fury of the skies. Beautifully written and seductive, UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY is at once a glorious love story, a fascinating slice of social history, and a mesmerizing account of what it's like to be in the eye of a hurricane."
It's 1935 in the Florida Keys, a community impacted by the Depression and the remains of war. Many veterans have returned to Florida or are newly arrived to the Keys due to a government job to build a bridge. There's Missy, an African American nanny to the wealthy Kincaid family, who although wasn't formally educated, she read encyclopedias for fun and now possess a wealth of knowledge. She is a nanny for Nelson and Hilda Kincaid, a prominent, but very unhappy couple. Hilda struggles with her weight and has haunting memories of her former life (Miss Palmetto) before she had her son and married Nelson, who takes every opportunity to cheat on her. Then there's Henry, an African American veteran, who has returned home to the Keys after the war as he is going to work on the bridge. There's also Dwayne, the town sheriff, who has to deal with racial tension amongst the locals as well as the veterans who often drink too much and get out of line. Each person in this novel has to deal with some major conflicts and all of this get magnified once a hurricane is heading right towards Heron Key's shores. Vanessa Lafaye's debut, Under a Dark Summer Sky, highlights racial tension in the south as well as what life was like for people living in the Keys during the 1930s, especially when disaster strikes.
There are many characters in Under a Dark Summer Sky and Lafaye jumps from character to character very often, so there are many points of view in this novel. I found myself connecting the most to Missy and I wanted so much for her. She has always harbored feelings for Henry and once he returns, she hopes they can start anew. Things get way more complicated when there's a random act of violence in Heron Keys and now the police are looking at the veterans, specifically Henry.
Henry is a complex character in Under a Dark Summer Sky. He has dealt with so much during the war and its aftermath. He finally returns home to help build the bridge, but things have changed in the Keys; plus, he hasn't seen his family and friends in many years. Can they start again?
What was so eye opening in Under a Dark Summer Sky was how the veterans were treated and their living conditions. I had heard about this real life event in Florida's history many times, but it still impacted me greatly. It's very upsetting to see how our veterans were treated as they deserved so much more.
The impending hurricane keeps things moving in Under a Dark Summer Sky. Readers even get the perspective from meteorologists following the storm as well as Heron Key's residents. I was familiar with this horrific hurricane (1935 Labor Day Hurricane) prior to reading the novel and Lafaye did a great job bringing the harsh realities to life. This aspect of the novel had me on the edge of my seat.
My only issue with the book was Lafaye's focus on so, so many characters. Sometimes its hard for me to connect with all of the characters. I find myself losing interest in a particular character's story and wanting to return to another character's perspective.
If you are looking for a smart historical read this summer with a gorgeous tropical setting, then check out Under a Dark Summer Sky. It was a real page turner!