I loved Julia Fierro’s debut novel, CUTTING TEETH (St.Martin’s). It’s about a group of parents of preschoolers spending a weekend together with the kids on the north shore of Long Island. Oh, what fun they have. And I was so excited to learn her new novel, THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER (St.Martin’s) has been published and named one of the most anticipated books of 2017.
Having grown up on Long Island like Julia, I can appreciate how she choses to set the location of her novels where she’s spent her childhood. But I’m always reminded when I think of Long Island, New York, how different it is from the whole idea many people have of “New York.” New York State is basically three mini-states. There’s New York City, which people clearly know or have heard of. But there’s also upstate New York, which is completely different, in that it’s more rural, somewhat industrial and hosts our state capital, Albany. Also, Niagara Falls, which is in New York borders with Canada.
Finally, there is Long Island, which is unlike anything else. It’s made up of two counties, Suffolk and Nassau, mostly white conservative, experiencing, like much of the country, an influx of diverse people, which many locals aren’t necessarily welcoming. Suffolk, unlike Nassau county has had a reputation of being more isolationist, “sticking to their own.” There is tension between wealthy “city people” who have built large beach homes on the Atlantic and Sound and the locals. Each tend to view the other with a certain level of disdain, while recognizing the importance of cooperating for business. I didn’t mean for this to turn into a sociology report, but these are the issues I pondered, while reading, THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER. Long Island is relatively small geographically and all the change provides a unique location for the perfect storm, which is kind of like what happens in the summer of 1992 in THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER
In the summer of 1992, ravenous caterpillars invade and blanket the serenity of Avalon Island, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Both posh, East Avalon and working class, West Avalon are overrun. Caterpillars begin dropping wherever one turns, on cars, picnic blankets, t-shirts, one’s hair – it’s all anyone talks about.
“And then the graffiti began appearing in the spring. “GRUDDER IS CANCER. GRUDDER KILLS.””
“At the same time, new and deadly cancers start appearing in alarming numbers. Could Grudder Aviation – “the island’s bread and butter for bombers and war machines” – the corporation many “claim to have more faith in than in God” be the cause?”
Leslie Day-Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family returns with her botanist, husband who is African-American, and their bi-racial child to live in “The Castle,” the island’s most lavish estate. Their arrival reawakens unspoken racism.
And high-school outsider, Maddie Pencott LaRose, from the wrong side of the tracks is fast-tracked to “Bitsy’s freshest dopest gang of bitches at East High” for being in the right place when her friend, Penny has a seizure, gaining immediate notoriety. Maddie falls for Leslie and Jule’s son, Brooks, but starts freaking out, as she learns of the cancers.
In 1992, a gypsy moth infestation actually happened and the one-time United States of America’s largest defense manufacturing facility, Grumman, which eventually became Northrop Grumman Corp. (NGC) began leaving the Island after reports of residential groundwater contamination and chemical pollution.
Julia’s novel is a well researched book highlighting many actual happenings on Long Island in 1992 with a compelling narrative, plot, prose and well-developed characters. It examines love, power, money, wealthy WASPs in their mansions, factory workers and caretakers living paycheck to paycheck, sex, bigotry, pollution, drugs and high-school kids living on both sides of the tracks.
After reading THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER, it’s understandable why the book has attracted such anticipation. You don’t want to miss reading this book, and I look forward to what Julia writes next.
To further the story , The New York Daily News reported September 15, 2016: “Firm Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) slammed with $500 million lawsuit for allegedly contaminating Long Island park soil with cancer-causing toxins.” The lawsuit argues, “defense giant NGC is responsible for a massive toxic plume that has been expanding beneath for years, sickening residents who were completely unaware of the threat.”
You can find more information on the Evaluation of Cancer Incidence and Environmental exposures at http://www.health.ny.gov
And of course, you can read the absorbing fictional account in THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER.
JULIA FIERRO is the founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, a creative home to more than 4,000 writers in New York City, Los Angeles and online. Her first novel CUTTING TEETH, was praised by The Boston Globe (“at once modern and timeless”) and The New Yorker (“a comically energetic début”). A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julia lives in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
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Thanks to Julia and St. Martin’s Press and TLC Book Tours, we have two copies of THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER to giveaway. Just tell us your plans for the summer. It’s in full swing now! We’ll announce winners Next week. Good luck.