Once she arrives, she learns about life in Jamaica, where her middle class lifestyle is seen as royalty and her family is not at all eager to welcome her. Her father soon pulls another disappearing act, and Tilla is left to navigate this world that feels so foreign to her among people who seem determined to see her fail. As a hurricane physically and emotionally approaches, Tilla will have to decide who she is and how she will handle the things that are thrown at her.
From the very first lines, this book pulls the reader in and wraps them in Tilla's world. She feels 18 - the age when you are able to navigate the world on your own terms, but not always prepared to do so. She is a highly compelling character, who is learning about her family and herself in circumstances where she is basically on her own for the first time. The book is also written with characters speaking Patois, which helps with the immersive nature of the book.
The book contains a lot of really heavy topics. There are the smaller dynamics of the way girls/women react to each other and related backstabbing, as well as shaming of sexuality, which is not within control. These expand to the bigger and more dangerous dynamics of abuse (physical and sexual) that she witnesses and experiences. This was a book that was very emotional and heart-wrenching. It ultimately focuses on the way that Tilla handles these things and comes into her own, despite the way she is treated and the things that she experiences.
Other themes in the book include classism and wealth disparity. Although Tilla's clothes and shoes primarily come from Walmart and she feels that her family is struggling to make ends meet, the level of poverty in the Jamaican country is different. Some of them don't have shoes or ones that fit much less so many clothes, showing persistent poverty, which also stops them from being able to leave.
Internalized colonialism and resultant colorism is also a theme, where her cousin with darker skin is seen as less than, not being allowed to pursue education and treated as though he is less capable and intelligent as well as the use of Mass (short for Massa or master) as a title for some men who are seen as somehow better than others. There is also a lot of sexism and internalized sexism in the approaches towards men and women across generations, including perpetrated by her father and others in the family.
Although realistic, Tilla was failed by the adults and people around her, even those who are supposed to love her. I did wish there was more justice for her, and I was concerned that she didn't really voice what happened to her. When reading, it would be helpful for accompanying resources for readers who may be dealing with assault.
HURRICANE SUMMER is a compelling and emotional read about coming-of-age and defining yourself in an uncertain and dangerous world. With intense and heavy themes, this book would be great for book groups and discussion.