Grand Central Publishing, 1992
Plot Summary: Dale, Duane, and a few other childhood friends live in a small Midwest town. They have the same problems as most kids: school, girls, bullies. However, an ancient evil that seems to originate from their old school building starts causing disturbing things to happen. One of the boys, an altar boy, notices that the minister of the church is acting strangely. One day, the minister turns into a horrible monstrosity and starts attacking him. A few other horrible things start happening to the boys, Dale gets pulled into his bedroom closet by an unknown force and nearly loses his life. The boys get together to research the history of their town and discover how to exorcise the evil from it. Now they'll have to infiltrate their old school through a network of tunnels that have mysteriously appeared.
Critical Analysis: Unlike many other horror authors, Dan Simmons knows how to build tension. At 600 pages, Summer of Night is a tome of a book, but Simmons makes the wait worthwhile. The terrifying things start happening very slowly. Simmons teases the reader with what's to come without coming away cheated. Once all hell breaks loose and the five boys are fighting for their lives, Simmons hits his stride and the reader cannot pull away from the page.
Simmons also wrote an immersive and amazing environment. A map of Elm Haven, Illinois is now stamped on my brain because of Simmons' descriptions. This helps give the reader the feeling that this is an epic horror story set in a small town. Summer of Night is also a coming of age story, with the boys tackling issues about self-identity while they live out their nightmares. Both of these elements combined give Summer of Night a Stand By Me type of feel. The same type of story would never have worked with a group of adults, yet Simmons took the risk to put them in scary adult situations.
The main criticism of the book is its length and I can mostly agree with that. Though the book is a bit of a slow burn and needs some extra space, there is some time wasted on ancilliary characters and excessive descriptions. A good editor could have probably told the story in 450-500 pages. This is a criticism of most of Dan Simmons' work: another of his horror epics Carrion Comfort is a bloated 800 pages, half of which were unnecessary. Simmons always writes a great story, but sometimes he makes the reader dig for it.
Reader's Annotation: An ancient evil has taken over Dale's hometown of Elm Haven, Illinois. Now it's up to him and his friends to exorcise their city of it.
Author Information: Born in a small Illinois town himself, Dan Simmons often uses his surroundings as inspiration. He also has a strong interest in history. In fact, two of his novels, The Terror and Drood are heavily researched fictional books based on the arctic Shackleton Expedition (the former) and the end of Charles Dickens' life (the latter). Dan Simmons writes in many different genres including science fiction, horror, detective novels, and suspense.
Genre: horror, adult/teen crossover
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Booktalking Ideas: Draw your own map of a fictional town like Elm Haven, Illinois.
Summer of Night features many sterotypical elements of horror, but comes of as fresh and original. Can you think of any other books you've read like this?
Reading Level: 15 to adult
Challenge Issues: disturbing images, blood, violence
Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.
Why I included this title: I'm a big fan of Dan Simmons, I think he's an underappreciated horror author. This was one of the books that got me back into reading during high school and I figured a similar situation could happen if a teen read it now. The book is simply written despite its length and is full of action, a great pick for any teenage boy.