Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2023) Featured Review of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson
May 10, 2022
ISBN: 9780063086166

The summer after she graduates high school, Lou is working at her family’s ice-cream shack, waiting to head off for university in the fall.

Lou is Metis, and lives with her mother in farmland in small-town Alberta. While she knows her mother’s family, who are Indigenous, she knows nothing for certain about her white father or his family. 

Bitter. Lou’s now-former boyfriend, Wyatt, also works at the ice-cream shack with her; and while she remembers exactly how many times they kissed, she knows she didn’t enjoy any of them. 

Sweet. Also working there is Lou’s sometime best-friend, King, who is back in town after having disappeared suddenly years ago. 

Bitter. Lou gets a letter from her long-estranged father, who has been in jail most of her life, and although he wants to meet up, Lou’s not sure she is ready to dig into that family secret. 

Sweet. Lou and King are spending a lot of time together. Again. And it feels so different that any other relationship Lou has: King is just there with Lou, enjoying the time they spend together. Safe. 

Bitter. The family business is struggling and Lou is determined to do what she can to save it. But is she ready for everything she will learn and the cost she will have to pay as she fights to save it?

Michif/Metis and white author Jen Ferguson’s debut novel tells of Lou growing up in an environment rich with the indigeneity of her mother and family, as well as the horrible context of the many missing and murdered women and girls and two-spirited people (MMIWG2S). 

This summer, growing up means Lou not only learns about the bigoted selfishness of her white, privileged father but also realizes his desire to get to know her is manipulative. And growing up also means she and King find healthy ways to be together.

Whether the generational trauma or the asexual/ demisexual representation, her mother’s painful past or Lou’s strength in the face of casual racism, these tough topics are handled with a lot of care.

Give to those who enjoy reading of strong characters growing up – whether Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High or Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free. And give it to those interested in learning more about the lives of indigenous peoples, especially those living in what is now called Canada, as can be done through the novels of Richard Wagamese, Cherie Dimaline, and others. It is not a light book – and Ferguson begins with a dedication and “A Few Things About This Book” that both clearly indicate so – yet is beautiful in its descriptions of prairie life and of Lou and King, in particular. 

-Matthew Clark

Other Nominated Titles:

  • I’m the Girl by Courtney Summers
  • Jumper by Melanie Crowder
  • The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas
  • Dark Room Etiquette by Robin Roe

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination.

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.