Andrea Abreu made an extremely powerful debut with her new novel Dogs of Summer, which takes place in a small town near a volcano on an island off the coast of Spain called Tenerife. It centers around a 10-year-old girl we know as Shit, a nickname given to her by her best friend Isora. We follow Shit during the very hot summer of 2005 as she learns to navigate her incredibly close friendship with Isora and how the world views women. It leads her toward an exploration of her sexuality, her body, and her relationship with that body. The way that Abreu just very boldly and blatantly captures the narrative voice of a ten-year-old girl coming-of-age is genius, and from the very first page I was brought right back to my own adolescence. Before you run out and purchase this book or even finish this review, it is important to warn you that this novel contains a lot of fat-phobia and the sexual exploration of young girls- all topics that I will be discussing in this review as well. If those are topics you find triggering or difficult to read- i would absolutely not recommend this book.
With that being said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of this story. As a lesbian woman myself, it is very clear that Shit has a crush on her female best friend Isora. The way Shit talks about her is very detail oriented, and at times obsessive. At one point she says, “I wanted to suck up isora’s head so I’d have her inside my body.” And that is not the only example of her speaking this way about her. Shit also becomes extremely jealous anytime Isora talks about boys, and openly talks about how disgusted by boys she is herself. Her behavior really reminded me about how I used to think about my female friends before I realized that just as my friends had crushes on boys, I had crushes on them. I love the narrative voice the author uses to convey how a young person starts to have queer feelings, without realizing those feelings are queer yet. I actually had such a sense of nostalgia reading all of Shit’s thoughts about her friend and it was an incredibly relatable part of this book for me even though I personally had a very different childhood. The unknowing childhood yearning is Dogs of Summer feels like such a universal queer experience.
Another aspect of this novel that I know is definitely relatable for so many women is how horribly our bodies are discussed by the older women who are supposed to love us, and teach us to love ourselves as well. This book perfectly encapsulates how casually mothers and motherly figures often talk poorly about not only their own and other grown women’s bodies, but how they push that fatphobic hatred onto the young girls under their care. We see this immediately and most clearly with Isora when her aunt frequently calls her fat, criticizes how much she eats (often calling her a pig), and even puts her on multiple diets throughout the story. We see Isora develop a serious struggle with her relationship with food, which results in bulimia. It is so heartbreakingly real to read about this girl who fell victim to the same toxic cycle of self hatred and fatphobia that will forever alter and more often destroy a girl’s perception of what a woman’s body “should” look like. I could go into more detail, but I personally found the language in the book triggering myself. I would like to add how Abreu did not hold back with her descriptions of the self-exploration of young women. This author really went into the reality of what it is like to first explore your own body, and she did it in a way that was not sexualizing at all, something I worry about when going into books that handle topics of young children discovering sexuality and self-pleasure. It reads more like a science experiment, very analytically, and for a child that is what it really is- a learning experience with yourself.
Overall, I really did have a very interesting, but enjoyable time reading this book. I think this can be extremely valuable for women in their early 20s and older. I would absolutely not recommend this book be put in the hands of anyone that would likely be influenced by the discussion of weight and eating. On the other side of this, as a lesbian woman, this was the most raw depiction of what it is like to be gay before you realize you are gay and I would highly recommend this book to people who may be questioning their sexuality or those who have just come out. Although you do not have to take my word for how good this debut is, it was originally written in Spanish and has been translated into 16 different languages and is already set to be adapted for the screen by El Estudio, so it is safe to say if you can handle the subject matter you don’t want to miss this one!
Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu is out now and available for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.