In Bernard Jan's latest book, Cruel Summer, he has delivered lyrical prose, snappy dialog, and thought-provoking relationships . . . Cruel Summer teases us with a bounty of emotions, encouraging us to question what is really happening and in which time frame . . . The core focus on character emotions, family drama, and discovering how to push through pain clearly shines here . . . this is an area where the author excels.
This is a first time for me to read anything from this author and was glad I have! This book is well put together! Young adults as well as old will love it!
CRUEL SUMMER is a slick YA with deep character development, an exciting story, and a thrilling dystopian/sci-fi edge. Jan juggles themes, dialogue, and conflict adeptly, and the story really put me in mind of one of those nineties sci-fi teen thrillers that I would watch again and again growing up. This is a translated book, and it is translated well, with the prose wonderfully framing the struggles of the characters and propelling us on an unstoppable journey throughout. Few books are able to so smoothly blend genres, and Jan does an admirable job here, but through thick and thin, it’s the characters and their relationships that really shine in this gem of a book. Overall, thoroughly enjoyable, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Content warning: Events of abuse, murder, grief, and death.
Cruel Summer is a story about climate change, drama and thriller, melodrama, and young adult story, all at once.
In the beginning, we are following Michael's life with his father Hank after his mother's death and his sister Rebecca who is a rebellious kid. Michael wants to skate and go to the contest to improve his skills. He is bonded with his friends who became a substitute for family. The world of secret laboratories will make another perspective in his life, he will face it with a higher power. Where money rules and emotions are not important, Michael will see his own way to justice.
Michael, a young adult who lives among the skateboarding community in New York, is grieving from the loss of his mother, who passed away a few months earlier. Michael is left to fend for himself spending most of his time skateboarding, grieving his mum and trying to escape his stepdad’s abuse and control. His younger sister is on holiday at their grandparent’s ranch and his stepdad works long hours. Michael’s dream is to become a professional skateboarder, however, unknown to Michael, his stepdad has sinister plans for him which do not include the skateboarding world. Michael takes matters into his own hands when he needs money to pursue his dream. His stepdad has unacceptable conditions around lending Michael the money. Led by desperation and fear to escape the life he is living, Michael takes control which leads to a life on the run. With the support of his friends, he is able to survive.
There is so much more I could write about this story, but I do not want to give anything away. Some of the contents are shocking and disturbing, though Bernard writes these scenes in a way that makes them a little easier to read. Though Bernard states this is not based on a real life, it would not surprise me if it was!
I found Cruel Summer to be an emotional, moving story that pulled me in right from the start. I found the characters to be strong and vivid, Bernard’s writing is so easy to absorb that it brings the story to life. I really enjoyed Cruel Summer. Bernard’s writing drew me into the story straight from the start. A fabulous book!
This was an amazing experience.
Bernard manages to narrate the story in an extremely readable way, with interesting plot twists, while also cleverly developing the characters. This book is so much more than what you first expect. It addresses numerous important topics from domestic abuse to climate change but in a very poetic way. Bernards writing is multi dimensional and this is a book that will give you something new every time you read it. I will never understand why some novels do not become more known becauses this one surely deserves greater appreciation.
By Vedrana Pavlak, May 31, 2021, published on Goodreads, 5/5
Unique characters and story...
Cruel Summer follows a whole slew of people as they take us on a journey through their lives and all of their ups and downs, mostly downs. I enjoyed following each character and learning about their lives and stories although some of them were very sad. Cruel Summer kept me on the edge of my seat as I watched and waited to see how each of these characters' lives was going to interact and or intertwine.
Cruel Summer follows one character Michael who wants nothing more than just to skateboard for a few years before going to college and starting a career. Michael’s story was a sad one. Michael lost his mother a while back and his sister had moved away leaving him home alone with a very abusive stepfather. Michael hid his abuse well or at least tried to but he didn’t count on his two best friends paying more attention to him than he knew.
Cruel Summer follows several different characters each unique in their own way. Each had a heart of gold. Well, most did, some did not of course. Cruel Summer explores more than one kind of love and relationship. There was the love a boy had for his grandmother. The love between friends and siblings and how far each would go to protect the other.
Cruel Summer is a story that will break your heart. It is a story that will draw you in from the beginning and keep you hanging on as you travel down one suspenseful road after another just trying to figure it all out. Cruel Summer kept me in suspense from page one with quite a few twists. There was this one Easter egg that made me think oh that is sick and so wrong on so many different levels.
I highly recommend Cruel Summer but with a warning as there is sexual abuse.
Let me start this by appreciating all the hours I spent playing the Tony Hawk Pro Skater game on the PlayStation years ago without which I wouldn't have understood even a tenth of all the skater references and terminology.
I don't usually read translated books, but when I do, I'm highly critical of the grammar and stuff... suffice it to say, this book isn't badly translated, which was done by the author himself so kudos for that, but it certainly needed the services of a professional and I feel the story lost much impact because of it. However, I am very grateful that there was a notification at the beginning of the book, which allowed me to accept certain errors... Also, I have no knowledge about Croatia or its people or its cultures, but I had Google at the ready.
The writing is surprisingly good, even through the translation, and it kept me reading chapter after chapter. Not only does Jan create atmospheric scenes of cityscapes and landscapes but meshes this hybrid of Dystopia / Science Fiction and mixing it with the familiar that it seems like we're reading a Contemporary with a slight Paranormal feel to it... you can barely notice the differences, really, which opens this story up to many, many more types of readers.
Chapter divisions, too, are done in a very unique way - there is a paragraph from a skateboard user's manual or something between each chapter; I haven't tested it but I think you can read the chapter things themselves together and they'll probably form an instruction manual... very awesome, actually.
But what is any story without the characters and Bernard Jan has written some incredibly "real" characters for us to love and/or hate. Michael is a cinnamon roll, talented and popular, but broken and deeply flawed; abused by his "father" and manipulated by his therapist, he can only turn to his truest friends for help and support.
Cruel Summer is raw and provocative and will definitely keep you guessing.
Growing up in NYC relate to the scenery of Bernard Jan’s Cruel Summer. The struggles of family and friendship begin to reveal themselves early in this recently renewed story previously published in Croatian.
If I hadn't read a summary of the book wouldn't have known. Seems very accurate to my hometown.
On a side note, the cover illustration is fantastic. Seeing city within the silhouette makes the story meaning deeply embedded within the vibe for me.
The only struggle for me is the length. Converted the prerelease copy from the author into audio via Speechify making enjoyment a bit more exciting as a listener.
Following a dream isn't easy. Obstacles arise from family, friends, and social pressures.
Hints of Tara Westover’s ”Educated” and J.D. Vance’s ”Hillbilly Elegy” appear among the various moments of familial abuses except Cruel Summer is fiction.
Michael, a youth, struggles within the context of family and friends for his identity.
Michael craves different. His world tries to tie him to their norm.
Within the mix are family friend relationships from Victor’s grandmother's passing to social constructs of teen pressure.
Warning, language, and sexual content are very brief but might offend some readers. Within the context of a few scenes, these could be considered appropriately played out.
A few things that would make the book shorter, characters like Bryan, if there were a prologue of his ascent to the presidency would have worked better for me.
Dealing with the father was tough.
What I like a lot is how this could easily be adapted as a movie or mini-series. There are a lot of moving parts that could fill a script of characters. I think this would be very appealing to young people struggling for an identity beyond the obvious.
Parents and children struggle from a mixed stepfamily to the groups of friends turned toward for understanding whom have struggles of their own. Plus, a goal to succeed beyond the belief of other familial or peer relationships.
This reminds me of most films that appeal to the late teen to early 20’s genre’. Set in NYC.
We see into the lives with more intricacy of the pain of loss. The humility of counseling is felt by boys sometimes. Another issue confronted.
Remember the Karate Kid? Mister Miagi? This story has the potential to morph into a gem theme for theaters.
Nothing is black and white, there are too many shades of gray everywhere
With the book "Cruel Summer", Bernard Jan came out of his previous style of writing and, to my great surprise, he started writing a dystopian story. He wrote it perfectly and introduced us to the world of New York skaters like an experienced science fiction writer.
The world in which the main character Michael lives is anything but perfect, he loves skateboarding and hangs out with a few lunatics who love skateboarding. Michael is preparing for the competition and is very good at what he does, since losing his mother skateboarding is what he lives for. Unfortunately, his stepfather has completely different plans for him and Michael will find himself in a whirlwind of events that will disrupt all his plans. The dark past will surface like a tsunami and will affect him and everyone around him. As the title of the book suggests it will be a cruel summer and trust me the book will not leave you indifferent.
The book touches on many aspects of life hidden from the public, such as domestic violence, experiments on the edge of science, climate change, love, greed for money, and the brutal reality in which young people sacrifice their bodies for money. This dystopian novel follows seventeen-year-old Michael, so it could be said that it is a YA story but it is much more than that because this is much more serious science fiction with elaborate characters and serious problems that young generations face. Nothing is black and white, there are too many shades of gray everywhere.
At the end of the book is a real surprise in which Bernard Jan shows another hidden passion as a writer. But you will have to find out for yourself when you read the book.
Lost in New York
Set against the backdrop of 90s New York skate culture, Bernard Jan’s Cruel Summer centres on Michael, young and ambitious with dreams of turning pro. With a contest overseas on the horizon he sets his sights on competing. At home, however, negative forces begin to gather, and soon it becomes apparent that finding a way to take part in the competition is the least of his worries. With a dark past finally catching up with him, and newly revealed threats closing in, Michael struggles to make his way through perilous circumstances.
Jan’s sprawling novel presents an evocative portrayal of the era, authentically capturing the quality of the times. The novel takes it’s time and establishes its characters, giving a genuine account of the turning point from childhood to adulthood. As the central character of Michael progresses and faces the challenges he’s presented with, the secondary characters share their own stories, adding to the sense of lives intertwined by the growing infiltration of oncoming responsibilities. Jan has a poetic sensibility at times, and this is reflected in the character of Michael’s own appreciation for poetry, especially that of Rimbaud. The theme of childhood sexual abuse is tackled, and handled for the most part well, underlining how such toxic behaviours can become a familiar part of a family dynamic. In addition to Michael’s mounting personal problems another factor comes into play, in the form of a sinister organisation whose interests in him are unclear. This aspect of the novel successfully evokes the zeitgeist of the time, giving an X-Files type feel to the narrative.
A compelling narrative, giving an insight into the skate culture of that time and using it as the springboard for a memorable and enjoyable cross-genre novel.
In Bernard Jan's Cruel Summer, Michael is a seventeen-year-old boy living in New York. Michael loves skateboarding and wants to ride professionally. He and his abusive father, Hank, don't get along, and his mother died a few months ago. Michael's sister, Rebecca, is in Denver visiting their grandparents during summer break. Both Michael and Rebecca miss their mother a lot and deal with her death differently. Michael goes to visit his mother's grave often. Michael begins to have visions where he can see things that happen and he tells his sister. His dad suggests that he sees a psychiatrist who becomes a trusted ally. Michael's therapy sessions are going well and his sister begins to find relief after their mother's death until something tragic happens. Their father is dead, and Michael is the assumed killer. It's summertime, but the weather is cold like winter, and this is turning out to be quite a cruel summer.
Bernard Jan's Cruel Summer is an emotionally gripping story, full of love, friendship, loyalty, family drama, and skateboarding. Bernard did a wonderful job of creating a beautifully written and compelling story that is very descriptive so that the reader feels immersed in the story. I enjoyed the detailed skateboarding stunt instructions at the start of each chapter. His characters were brilliantly written and very compelling. Bernard's writing is full of twists and turns that keep you interested from the very beginning. An excellent read. I look forward to reading more stories by this author.
By Rolanda Lyles, March 19, 2021, published on Readers' Favorite, 5/5
I received a copy of this book for free from the author, and I am voluntarily leaving this honest review. Thank you!
This was a great read! Cruel Summer is a nice cross-genre experience. I won't give too many details and risk giving away the plot since this is a book best read without knowing much in advance.
That being said, I really enjoyed the relationships portrayed in this book, particularly the friendship between Michael and his friends Alien and Victor, as well as Victor's relationship with his grandma (view spoiler). In translation from Croatian, Cruel Summer is well-written and original.
I do not know much about skateboarding and struggled to connect with the storyline at times; however, I think this book will especially appeal to such fans. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to review this book and I look forward to hopefully reading more by this author!
By Sarah R, March 17, 2021, published on Goodreads, 4/5
Extremely well written and translated, this YA suspense thriller reels in the mind of the reader with each turning page. This author never disappoints!
The skateboarding theme that ties the chapters together was very uniquely placed. I think the title of this novel couldn’t sum up the contents any better.
Looking forward to reading more from Bernard Jan!
5 well earned stars for this one!
By Starjustin, March 15, 2021, published on Goodreads, 5/5
It’s mid-August and New York City is established as the main setting to this tragic and disconcerting story about Michael Daniels a 17 year old suffering grievously from the recent death of his mother, Melanie, losing the will to live.
We are plunged into a cold NYC suggesting that America may be experiencing a new climatic disorder and establishing pathetic fallacy to set the scene for some shocking revelations. It is “ a perfect setting for his [ Michael’s ] gloomy feelings and depressing thoughts.” “ Cruel Summer ” is an apt choice of title, ominous, reflecting Michael’s mind and life. Young adults, the intended audience will understand and appreciate the intensity, dark moods and melancholic tones.
His relationship with his step-father, Hank is a brutal one. He works at RIRI- Roosevelt Island Research Institute which is directly supervised and conducted by the White House, shrouded in secrecy, sounding unethical from the hints within the narrative.
Hank is linked to Neil Beresford, another unsavoury character who becomes Michael’s psychiatrist for a short while. Beresford is a leading expert in biochemistry. They have guarded personal secrets coined by Beresford as “ pleasure trips ” to justify their abuse of young males. Very devious and dangerous falling stereotypically into the moulds of villains- Daniels in an extreme way as both a lunatic and a monster who won’t tolerate defiance or disobedience. Beresford, on the other hand, is more subtle and superficially, seems kinder and more generous! He understands the art of manipulation. Michael inevitably becomes the victim of these two dangerous men.
Michael has a close-knit group of friends that share his obsession of skateboarding, all experts which balances the maudling anxieties faced by Michael. The other guys seem tougher and less emotional (apart from Victor) than Michael, born survivors. This features throughout the story and we discover how skilled Michael really is- one thing in his life that gives him the will to live as well as his undying love for sister Rebecca.
It’s interesting that Michael’s other interest is specifically in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, shot dead by his lover Paul Verlaine at the age of 37. Both the protagonist and his idol suffered violent relationships and I believe that the character of Michael Daniels may have been partly modelled on Rimbaud.
Cruel Summer is a very different novel to the books I have previously read by Bernard Jan so it was interesting for me to see how well he can adapt his poetic writing style to different genres. I would primarily identify Cruel Summer as a young adult novel because it centres on a teenage skateboarding community, but the narrative also encompasses shades of dystopian science fiction and crime fiction, going to some dark psychological places at times. This fluidity did mean I found it difficult initially to really get into the story and I was several chapters in before I felt I had a proper grip on the storyline. The juxtaposition between the novel's futuristic apects and its retro setting confused me at first although I did love Jan's nods to the trends and fashions of the late 1990s - X-Files and The Celestine Prophecy being ones that particularly brought back memories for me.
The relationships and loyalties between Michael and his friends are an important part of Cruel Summer. Their conversations allow readers to gain insights into how these skateboarding fanatics view their environment. Michael is the traumatised boy at the centre and Cruel Summer is very much his coming of age story, but I felt the eponymous summer was equally as decisive for his absent sister, Rebecca, and his closest friends, Victor and Alien, each dealing with their own crises. The New York setting is vital too and I loved that Cruel Summer is one of those novels where its location almost becomes a character in its own right. That kind of authentic grounding is important to me as a reader and I certainly appreciated it here.
“Cruel Summer “is a gripping young adult cross-genre novel about an abused teenager and a poet in New Manhattan. This is the story of 17 year old Michael Daniels whose dreams are to enter professional skateboarding contests. His only hope when things go wrong is the loyalty of friendship, Alien and Victor will stand as the shield between those with power and his freedom. This story carries a strong message of friendship.
I have read other books by Bernard Jan, this one takes on a different type of storytelling definitely not the read I expected. Although he still continues to demonstrate his fabulous poetic prose. On top of revolving around the teenager the story weaves a tale of a government sponsored research project to control minds and mind altering techniques. The experience is short of bordering on a science-fiction read. Not my preferred style and by far, having said this, the story is nevertheless superbly written and is richly descriptive. We have plenty of plot twists that added to the book’s mystique. The characters are impressively realistic. The plot pays attention to details and we have an abundance of well-illustrated scenes ...not that I would pick up skateboarding....This story will appeal both to young people as well as to a more mature audience.
“Cruel Summer” is a skillfully constructed and emotional drama that doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Well said...well-done. I am looking forward to more books by this author.
When I read the synopsis for Cruel Summer, I was expecting a laid-back light reading on skateboarding youths. What readers can expect from Bernard Jan’s book will be much more. The book itself could fall into a combination of genres including sports, sleuth and sci-fi.
Being a book lover, action-sports fan and writer myself, I read the book from three perspectives.
As a reader, the story transitioned from dramatic into somewhat of a mystery which I enjoyed, although I did hope that there was more explanation of how the lead character’s gift was supposed to be manifested. I do not feel a star-rating system can justify my review for this book, so did not put it in.
As an inline-skater (yes, friendly rivalry with skateboarders), I appreciate the author Bernard’s inclusion and explanation of skateboarding terms which are helpful in visualizing what the characters were doing.
As a writer, I was impressed by the choice of words as this was a translated book from Croatian and written twenty years ago. It did not feel out of place at all or had sentence structures that jumped out due to a foreign context (since this version was set in NYC). The poems penned by the author inserted at the end of the novel was a refreshing touch, especially "the East River Has Begun to Weep".
Thanks again to Bernard for the copy for review, and look forward to your upcoming new works!
By A.X.Y. Grace, March 4, 2021, published on Goodreads
A masterclass in storytelling
Cruel Summer by award-winning Croatian born author Bernard Jan is a superbly written and richly descriptive novel with brilliantly drawn characters and settings. The threads of storytelling are expertly woven in this Y/A dystopian tale that will guarantee the attention of the reader. Skillfully constructed, this gripping and emotional drama had me turning the pages from beginning to end.
The plot is intricately sculpted as the synopsis suggests: ‘All he wants to do is skate. But they have other plans for him. Michael Daniels is seventeen and dreams to enter professional skateboarding contests. But beneath New Manhattan, a city under the oppressive shadow of climate change, exists another world altogether—secret laboratories which threaten society as he knows it… Those with power will get what they want. No price is too high, even if it means making someone special or robbing them of their dignity, freedom . . . or life. The price is too high for Michael, though. He has endured his stepfather’s abuse and mind games for almost as long as he remembers. Until one day he takes matters into his own hands, ruining the lives of those he loves most. And his skateboarding friends, Alien and Victor, are his only hope for freedom… When there is no hope left, friendship is what remains.’
I enjoyed the story, character development, and dialogue. There were plenty of plot twists that I didn’t see coming and that added to the book’s mystique. When I stopped reading to work, I found myself wondering what happened in the book, and replaying parts of the novel in my head to see if I could figure more out. It has been a while since I enjoyed a book this much. It’s a first-class multi-layered dystopian fiction with perfect pacing.
The beauty of this book is in the potency of the characters and the author’s command of the language. The originality of the story lies in the effectiveness of the characters and the author’s microscopic viewpoint of the human condition. The most outstanding features of the book are the impressively realistic characters in the story and the author’s eloquence and mastery with the use of the English language. The story is layered enough that there’s no one marketing umbrella formula that can lump it together other than original, creative and thought provoking. It entertains but grabs you and doesn’t let go until it threads into your mind and makes you think.
Cruel Summer had every element a good story should have. An intriguing plot, attention to detail, but best of all fleshed out, well-written and well-rounded character development. There’s an abundance of well-illustrated scenes that make you feel like you are right there in the story, and that’s something I look for in a good book. It’s one of those stories that come along once in a while that makes you want to read it non-stop until you get to the end. I’m giving nothing further away here. And this, I hope, will only add to the mystery and enjoyment for the reader.
I was impressed with the insight and empathy of the writer into the spirits of his characters. Any aspiring fiction writer will learn a lot about character development by reading Cruel Summer by Bernard Jan. Highly recommended.
thrilling mixture of genres about so much more than just skateboarding
“Mama, I’m not happy. Nothing’s been good since you’ve been gone. I’m lost in a world I do not understand, and I am trying to find myself. I despise so many things, and there is so little worth living.”
this book was very interesting from the start and can't really be classified as one category. it is definitely a little bit of mixed genres since it has some dystopian and sci-fi elements, a futuristic yet modern setting, focuses on young adults as some of the main characters and it also deals with a whole lot of types of issues, such as relationships between family members, the power of strong friendships, and some darker subjects like depression, grief, death, murder, manipulation, and abuse.
the main character struggles with grief and depression from the recent death of his mother and also because of a few other things going on in his life throughout the book. skateboarding, poetry, and hanging out with his friends is about all that keeps him going, though judging by the above quote from him talking to his mother while visiting her grave you know even that isnt enough right now. when something happens that pretty much upends his life even more than it already is, he turns to two of his best friends who try hard to help him deal with the consquences. there are also subplots as his friends and sister are each dealing with their own issues, too, but they all still stand by him no matter what and so much more happens that is too spoilery to discuss without giving away major plot points. while i wouldnt go as far as saying everything ends happily ever after, everything ties together to make sense so that there is closure with several storylines, even though some things dont happen how most readers would have expected. i liked how the poetry at the end served a purpose and since it was also one of the main character's passions, but i can't say the rest of my thought without being spoilery so i will stop there.
this isnt the first book i have read from this author. his writing immerses you into the story from the start, regardless of what it is about. although this book was a lot darker than some of his others, i still enjoyed it and learned a lot about more skateboarding than i knew prior to reading this book in the process. i highly recommend reading his other works, too, especially Look for Me Under the Rainbow, and January River. right now this book just got released and all of them are available for reasonable prices on amazon.
Having been gifted this novel in advance was a true honor.
Cruel Summer is a mesmerizing story. I was immediately captivated and engaged in the lives of the young skateboarders. This story tells their lives in such a way we feel each character’s hopes, fears, dreams, pain, and even their nightmares. Dealing with the loss of a loved one for anyone is difficult, but for a child/teenager it’s much more difficult. The experiences these characters, the youth as well as the adults, face are intriguing. The difficult situations within the story are something nobody should have to face, but too few people are willing to address and even mention abuse of this caliber. Too many children are too frightened to speak up and end the tragedies happening against them.
Due to the subject matter this may be a very difficult story to read, but the glimpse of hope and the love, devotion, and friendship of the characters compel the reader to endure through tears and anger to enjoy this masterfully crafted novel.
Skateboarding and Government conspiracy rolled into one edgy story.
The newest book by Bernard Jan continues to demonstrate Jan’s fabulous poetic prose and adds a very edgy feel to this story. Bordering on a science-fiction read, Cruel Summer weaves a fantastic tale of a government-sponsored research project on the ability to control minds and mind-altering techniques. To top it off, the story revolves around a teenage skateboarder with high-level skills whose primary focus is to become a pro.
Michael Daniel's Mother has died, leaving him and his sister struggling with their grief and living with their step-father. The relationship between Michael and his step-father has always been tenuous at best. His sister has gone to Colorado to spend the summer with his grandparents with Michael left alone to adapt to the loss of his Mom and his Stepfather being in charge. The good news is that Michael has a support team in his skateboarding pack. Victor and Allen have his back and are there for him in his struggles.
If you read my posts very often you know I do not like to include spoilers, so let me just say that this is a very intriguing book with several twists. It is rather nerve-racking to think that this could be a true story because there was a time in the United States that independent thought was considered an asset. If you are expecting a “usual” read from Jan you will be disappointed for this novel will be located in a whole different genre like those in which you might find Stephen King or Joe Hill. It is always exciting when an author takes on a different type of storytelling!
Written so well!
This is quite an amazing book! It’s so well written and expresses the deepest feelings that are impossible to share at times.
The young adult and teen hubris are marvelously expressed in so many different characters. While the setting is somewhat dystopian and science fiction, the action is driven by the relationships on so many different levels. The author has done a wonderful job of bringing the multitude of points that create who we are to life.
The difficult scenes are handled with finesse and the author is to be commended for not sensationalizing those aspects. The plotting is very intertwined and brings the different events and relationships into a clear focus.
The dialogue is excellent and carries the story forward well.
I love this book and give it 5 stars!
By Mark Schultz, February 28, 2021, published on Amazon, 5/5
The first word that comes to mind, if it even is a word, is "WOW".
Sadly, most "average" books are forgotten the minute you finish. Seriously. But not in this case. With Cruel Summer, there will be lots you will remember, and I suggest you add this book to your "must-read" book list.
It is a unique story of youth, vitality, and sacrifice, that haunts the reader way after finishing, and that is the key to a great story. Remembering it. And I am happy that it is out for the public to enjoy.
I normally do not write reviews, because I prefer to let the music, movies, or in this case, the book I am featuring speak for itself. With that, I will leave it to you to find this book's mysteries for yourselves. You will be glad I did because any attempt to describe it will just take away that mystery. So, please, when starting it, find that favorite spot you like to read, and shut off this crazy world and get into Bernard's Jan's, Cruel Summer.
By Thomas Carley Jr., December 27, 2021, published on Goodreads, 5/5
Another fabulous read by this author.
In the book, we meet Michael, a young man who recently lost his mother and lives with his stepdad. His sister spends the summer with their grandparents while Michael spends his days skating with friends.
But all is not as it seems. Although the book is quite dark and broaches the subject of child abuse and sexual exploitation, there are a lot of positive things along the way to give us hope. Definitely a book worth reading.
Cruel Summer by Bernard Jan is aptly summed up in the cover: a young man, who we learn later is Michael, distressed, head lowered in pain, his skateboard the only hold on a normal world. The chapter headings enhance the importance of the skateboard image through descriptions of particular features of skateboarding movements. The descriptions pin point the intricacy of the story lines that will emerge in each chapter, making sense to anyone, even the most skateboard ignorant.
In the early chapters the masculinity of the skateboard noise and the young skateboarders resonates, providing a strong contrast to the softer story lines involving Rebecca, Michael's sister, living on a farm and in close contact with a family whose unworldly ideas contrast vividly with the city life in which Michael's story takes place. In the city the only warm images are of Victor and his grandmother. These seem to be a real oasis in Michael's world which is driven by abuse from his step father and his psychiatrist, dilemmas about how to deal with these and his visions, and his concern for his sister.
The abuse Michael endures is of two characters: sexual from his step father, Hank, and manipulative from his psychiatrist. Both embody the abuse of trust, bringing the two perpetrators together philosophically as well as in reality. Michael's trust in the latter is easily understood - he is a seemingly kind and understanding person. His trust in Hank is not so easy to explain. Although there have been years of abuse, this seems not to have been combined with kindliness and covert manipulation, features that render a victim powerless. It is not easy to explain Michael's acceptance of Hank's abuse, except through fear. There needed to be more attention given to providing an explanation of the subtlety with which a victim is drawn into a perpetrator's way of looking at the relationship and how it applied to Michael. This missing, it is only Michael's fear that can influence his relationship with Hank. It seems unrealistic that fear does not override Michael's preparedness to feel safe in telling Hank that he intends to live his own life. This event has serious consequences, which moves the story into one about detection, introducing new characters.
There is a science fiction element of the story, around Michael's visions. Like him, the reader is not aware of how he achieves this ability, another mystery to be solved. Another example of making use of a person and manipulation for individual aggrandisement. Possibly linked to this use of the individual is the advertising venture adopted by 'Alien' in response to another manipulator. I was not sure about this, but the nickname 'Alien' and the sexualised images of his skateboarding reflect the combination of sexual abuse and the science fiction reason for Michael's visions.
I enjoyed the challenge of this novel, so much that of the young adult world. In addition, Bernard Jan's writing style is fluent, moving the story lines easily between reality, science fiction, detection and human relationships. I was pleased to be sent this novel for review.
By Robin, February 19, 2021, published on Goodreads, 4/5
Cruel Summer has good bones in a narrative sense like a solid deck of a pro skateboard. Written twenty years ago in Croatian, it feels fresh and alive in this new translation. I love that each chapter is prefaced with skating terminology—moves and tricks—that reflect the course of the story. One that follows a group of friends, NYC street skaters, experiencing near future dystopian angst, burgeoning sexuality, abuse, and a dose of X-Files in secret government plots and psychokinesis. Cruel Summer is a good story that stays in the mind long after, where snippets of character moments come back to haunt and loose plot threads intrigue with the ambiguity of poetry. In tribute to its complicated protagonist, Cruel Summer leaves me with the urge to read Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell once more.
Conspiracy, murder, dystopia young adult fiction / extreme sports skateboarding
Michael is a seventeen-year-old boy living in New York. His mother died a few months back and he can’t find piece of heart and mind ever since. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his father, Hank Daniels, and his sister Rebecca is in Denver, visiting their grandparents during summer vacation. Yes, it is summer, but a different one. With temperatures more appropriate for winter and with lots of dark events, it resembles more of a cruel summer. Michael loves skateboarding and his main wish would be to take it to the professional level. And this sport and his friends are what keep him sane. Behind his beautiful psychical figure, intelligent mind and good heart, Michael hides a big secret. His ashamed and afraid to share it with his friends. He doesn’t know that his friend Alien knows more than he ever told him. However, he does know that Victor and Alien are on his side and he can always count on them, even during the hardest times.
There are many touching scenes in the story. I loved the most the one when Michael joins Victor to visit his grandmother Angela in an old people home and reads poetry. Skateboarding and poetry may not seem to interest the same one person. But is does Michael.
Michael visits almost daily his mother grave. “Mama, I’m not happy. Nothing’s been good since you’ve been gone. I’m lost in a world I do not understand, and I am trying to find myself. I despise so many things, and there is so little worth living.”
Michael misses his younger sister and scares her a bit when he’s telling her about the visions, he hays about her. He calls them presumptions. At his father’s suggestion, Michael start seeing a psychiatrist, Neil. Neil gains Michael’s trust and for a short time it seems that he can help him. Until one day when Michael decided that he needs to stop it.
Rebecca suffers too from her mother’s death and find a bit of relief in the company of Sunny Red. But this relief is about to end when something terrible happens. Her father is dead and Michael is assumed to be the killer. A real family drama where murder is only one of the so many awful things that take place. Is Hank the victim here or the one to blame for so many wrong things?
This is a heartbreaking story, full of love, trust, loyalty, family drama, conspiracy and a brilliant inclusion of skateboarding. Describing ingeniously skateboarding moves at the beginning of each chapter, the author managed to create an unpredictable engaging story wonderfully written and beautifully crafted as he did with his other books: A world without color, Look for Me Under the Rainbow, and January River.
It is not often I read a translated novel, but when I do, I'm always amazed at the author's and translator's ability to partner together to create and recreate beauty. In Bernard Jan's latest book, Cruel Summer, he has delivered lyrical prose, snappy dialog, and thought-provoking relationships. Jan has a strong hold on his character's identities and produces touching and alarming scenes that depict the reality of life... especially when it's set in a different environment and time frame than what I'm typically used to in my books. Crossing genres is always difficult, and thankfully, this one works well. It offers many angles for every type of reader. Even for those who aren't fans of dystopia / sci-fi or who've never been on a skateboard in their lives... you'll be pulled in for all the other reasons.
Cruel Summer teases us with a bounty of emotions, encouraging us to question what is really happening and in which time frame. I appreciated all the chapter headings and intros, as not only were they informative and fun... but they kept me questioning how it would unfold within the subsequent chapter. This story runs the gamut from mystery to dystopia and love to random discussions on life. The graveside scene that Jan's carefully constructed is clever and touching. Recognizing all the impacts of death is never easy; grief and acceptance happen over time, not in the immediate days after a tragedy.
Given Jan's strong writing quality, we easily turn the pages to understand relationships, dependencies, and the impact of loss, especially on some of the primary faces we come to know. The details surrounding hologram integration/conversations and regular skateboarding activities offer deep connections to the characters. While all the characters are well developed, Michael is my favorite. All the tragedy he encounters is important to defining who he is in relation to who he wants to be. Michael's relationships are very important, and the way we get to see all the POVs and connections is wonderful. I enjoyed seeing father/son, bf/bf, friendships... associating the murder/death component had an eerie element.
I've read a few of Jan's previous novels, and with each new one, he continues to shine. Though the genre was slightly out of my norm, the core focus on character emotions, family drama, and discovering how to push through pain clearly shines here... this is an area where the author excels. Looking forward to seeing what else he delivers in the coming years.
I was lucky enough to receive a translated version of Bernard Jan's book, "Cruel Summer", which was originally published in Croatian. All in all, the plot is very strong, I was just confused a little bit at the beginning, as I felt some pieces were missing, but I was able to have a better and a stronger understanding throughout my readings. This made me very curious to knowing what was coming next. I loved Bernard's style, it reminded be a bit of those of Nicholas Sparks and John Green. I love when authors write in so much detail, that they make you feel like you are part of the story itself. Being a poetry fan myself, I loved the piece of poetry at the end of the book.
Dear Bernard, I wish you all the best with this new book of yours.
I recommend everyone to give it a go.
By Elie N. Azar, February 17, 2021, published on Goodreads, 5/5
This is a novel by Croatian author that deserves attention, and you can probably read it as well for I think there's an English translation (The Cruel Summer). It is a novel set in near future, and it revolves around the group of young skateboarders. There is a love subplot, SF subplot, detective-story subplot, urban story subplot, etc... What I'm trying to say is that this is a multi-layered novel, with lots of different motives. But, it still is entertaining and easily readable. Main characters are likeable and they feel like real persons, not cardboard puppets. Furthermore, the overall tone is othe one of melancholy, which is well executed for it didn't soar into patheticness. Plot is so constructed that you are presented with the big picture concerning plot, but with some key elements missing, so you gather those missing pieces along the way, which adds to suspence and mystery. Also, there is some pretty solid poetry at the end of the novel. Of course, there are few flaws, but I'm happy to say they are all forgettable and don't ruin your reading experience. First thing that sometimes during the plot bothered me is character's highly urban speech, which is there for a reason of course, but it felt somewhat overdone to me. Second thing is that some minor plots elements felt somewhat unrealistic, for example main protagonist's overly friendly talk with his stepfater after all the horrible things he has done to him. But, as I said, good elements by far shadow the flaws, and I'd recommend you read this, for it will take you to an emotional and imaginative ride through the streets of future NY city.
By Genndy, October 29, 2017, published on Goodreads, 4/5
Seventeen-year-old Michael Daniels is guilty. Or at least the FBI thinks so. He is being held captive in a large prison called New York City. Two of his closest friends – Alien and Victor – also think he's guilty, but despite their doubts, they remain his partners in crime.
In a society where people will do anything for power and influence, and others will do what it takes to survive, a group of skateboarders from New Manhattan strives to live normally among the chaos of NYC. They ignore the oppressive effects of climate change while boldly confronting the brutal, bloody murder that turned their lives upside down. Michael's best friends Alien and Victor set off in pursuit of the truth in order to prove Michael's innocence, hiding a secret that could seal their time of innocence, and like an earthquake, shake the very foundations of a new American and world order.
Cruel Summer is a novel about a teenager named Michael Daniels who lives on New Manhattan at the end of the millennium, where child prostitution blooms and human experimentation is hidden yet seemingly common practice. There is only one ray of light in his life ever since his mother died – his dream to enter professional skateboarding contests. It is precisely this dream that guides him through his life and gives him the strength to endure the abuse and mind games bestowed upon him by his stepfather for almost as long as he remembers.
Characters: 4.5/5 Stars -
The characters in this book are great and well developed. These characters are anything but one-dimensional! In fact, in certain parts of the story, I was under the impression that Michael was Bernard himself. Although it's later revealed that Bernard is more like Michael's best friend, who is Victor. I love the part where Victor goes sees his grandmother and I don't know Bernard personally, but I kinda knew that was him in his actual lifetime. Anyway, each character has their own unique personality. Although some of them do feel bland, but its the simple length of the novel.
Plot: 5/5 Stars -
This is always a hard one to grade without spoiling the plot for others to read the book. Well here it goes, The plot has a dark dystopian feel to it with the ice age hitting new york and Bernard finds a way to fit his personality, which is what I absolutely love! I have to say that is the trickiest part of any book for an author to pull off. Michael has to prove himself innocent of a crime he did not commit, very similar to my second book, Framed: The Second book of the Thousand Years War Series. Anyway, it's a kick ass plot that I don't wish to spoil, so you'll just have to read it for yourself.
Writing Structure: 5/5 Stars -
An easy one to rate! Book is written so that it's easy to follow along, not too many typos. Understand that English is not the author's native language, so hat's off to him!
Ending/Climax: 5/5 Stars -
The Ending of the book is so good and sad at the same time it made me cry. All I can say is poor Michael. What did Bernard do to Michael?
Final Verdict: 4.5/5 Stars - A three-run home run, almost a grand slam!
An overall excellent Dystopian fiction book, a solid read for sure and if you can read Croatian you can purchase it at the author's website at: http://www.bernardjan.com/books-in-croatian. English readers, you can get a sample of the book on the website as well.
I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review!
Excellent Job Bernard!!!!