Hurricane Summer is a beautiful and devastating coming of age story

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield. Image courtesy St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield. Image courtesy St. Martin’s Publishing Group /

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield is a devastating read.

Bromfield’s descriptions are lush and lovely as Tilla learns about Jamaica, her father’s home and the island on which he spends the majority of his time away from the family he’d made in Canada. But the story is heavy, exploring topics of neglect, colorism, classism, abuse, misogyny, and assault. This is the kind of coming-of-age narrative that lingers in the reality of the inevitable heartbreak and loss that comes with growing up.

Tilla is a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood. She’s the daughter of two estranged parents who’s aware of their failing marriage more than her sister Mia. She carries the burden of her father’s shortcomings and her mother’s inability to let him go.

It lives inside her, playing on her self-worth and identity in ways that see her giving pieces of herself away in the hopes she won’t lose the people who are supposed to care about her, or at least say they do.

Bromfield rarely lets the reader stay content. Though there is romance in Hurricane Summer, it’s not a romance. The island of Jamaica isn’t romanticized despite the beautiful descriptions of the island’s forests, natural waterfalls, jewel-toned fruits, and the sunkissed skin of its inhabitants which ranges from the gold of honey to the jet of midnight.

Tilla is in paradise, but she isn’t on vacation. Her family treats her like an unwelcome guest, and she’s reminded tirelessly of how she doesn’t belong and of how privileged she is. In their eyes, with exception of her cousin Andre, it seems she can do no right. And, she is left at their mercy in her father’s absence.

Even her romantic and sexual awakening is made difficult, as her relationship with Hessan comes with the complications of his promise to her cousin Diana.

Tilla is swept up in the newness of touch and emotion. Her attraction is intoxicating and heady to the point of trusting too fast, too soon. She falls at a rate that will end in her crash landing back to earth dealing with the consequences of her decisions and those made by the people around her.

She also wrestles with ownership of her body and her words. So used to biting her tongue and keeping the peace, Tilla spends the entirety of Hurricane Summer finding her voice. The wounds her family’s words leave behind push her to speak up for herself over and over again, resulting in confrontations with even her father on more than one occasion.

The more Tilla is hurt, the more she realizes that people do and say what they want, taking whatever they want no matter who it hurts. And so, she fights back. Literally and figuratively. Against her family and Hessan, and their assumptions about her which includes the assault she experienced at the hands of Jahvan which is twisted into a tryst used to shame her.

Hurricane Summer is about resilience in the face of incredible loss. The loss of innocence, of personhood, of self.

Life is continuous death and resurrection, desolation and reconstruction. That’s the heart of Bromfield’s story. One that’s filled with breathtaking moments of self-actualization, kindness, and care. As well as devastating realizations including the rot that lives inside of people that can only be fixed by them.

Tilla’s family dynamics are steeped in colorism and misogyny. Their treatment of others lies within who they deem worthy of both respect and a chance at getting further in life.

Andre is held back because his skin is dark and they refuse to see the beauty in it and the talent in him. Tilla is repeatedly referred to as a s**t and a w***e, labels that are put upon her for being a girl growing into a woman. It is unquestioned by those who do not see her for herself and that includes her father, whose double life doesn’t keep him from casting his own stones or making judgments.

Hurricane Summer is as unsettling as youth ripped away by life. It’s cruel. Not endlessly so but there nonetheless. It’s a storm of a novel with a calming eye that passes over its protagonist long enough for her to see who she is becoming and to know that everything isn’t alright, but she’ll be okay.

Tilla also learns that as selfish as living can be, everything is not about her even if it does involve her. That there is the room she needs to make for her own flaws and the flaws of others whilst still using her voice and doing what she needs to take care of herself. In that, there is beauty even in the devastation of the summer that took from Tilla as much as it gave.

Bromfield’s debut takes a hard look at the way girls are treated as they mature and the pieces of themselves they lose as they transition into womanhood. Her story refuses to relent because it is the story of a girl who perseveres despite all that has been done to her and all that may come in the future.

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