[Book Review] Summer of Night (Dan Simmons, 1991) ★★★☆☆

book cover Summer of Night by Dan Simmons 1991

Summer of Night unleashes an ancient evil under a relentless hot summer sun. 

Summer of Night is a supernatural adventure coming of age horror that takes place in the summer of 1960 which results in a nostalgic throwback with dark forces. It’s a tale about 6 boys who are caught up in a battle between good and evil, that takes some time to really come into action. It carefully builds the world of a little town in the midst of the summer in 1960, that either will fully emerge you into the story or which you can find a little too tedious. It’s a typical story of young boys being the heroes, while coming of age during the biggest battle of their lives. 


It’s the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois and 6 boys, Mike O’Rourke, Duane McBride, Jim Harlan, Kevin Grumbacher and Dale Stewart and his little brother Lawrence are about to have a summer they will never forget. But at the last day of school at Old Central School a boy Tubby Cooke goes missing.

And that’s just the first thing of strange and scary events that are about to happen. An evil Rendering Truck is following the boys, even trying to kill them, a soldier who’s long dead roams the cemetery, and it all seems to have something to do with a hidden Bell inside the old school. When their lives are in danger and maybe even the whole town, it’s up to the boys and Tubby’s sister Cordie to fight the evil that threatens them.

Why you should read it

Summer of Night is a perfect summer read to bring up some old memories of the summer vacation, even if you haven’t lived through the sixties. It’s about that free time, to do whatever you want, exploring the world and childhood. That last part is the most nostalgic part of the story. Interesting to note is the foreword of Dan Simmons in the  edition of 2011, explaining why back then children had an innocent childhood, that was completely separated from adult life and which is since long disappearing bit by bit. That insightful foreword makes the story even more interesting and intriguing and creates a meaningful perspective.

Asides from this coming fo age story, where innocence is taken away abruptly, it’s a supernatural occult ghost story that is as thrilling as it is scary. There are some very graphic gruesome scenes and the reader nor the boys are spared from heartbreaking moments. Told from a couple of different perspectives, mostly Mike’s, Dale’s and Duane’s the three most interesting characters, the story takes form while the creepy events pile up. Each boy differs from the other, with different traits, values and thoughts, without becoming stereotypes, but they still aren’t as fleshed-out as they could have been, except for Duane.  

The novel has a buildup that slowly introduces the reader to 1960 and the characters of the boys, while some supernatural events sneak in. It describes that era in great detail, the setting, the town, what people did back then and of course what 11 year-old boys did back then to entertain themselves. The first part really emerges the reader into that specific era, with maybe a too nostalgic feel, only reserved for the happy (white, male) few. 

Because there’s animal cruelty, or in any case not real love for animals, except for Duane for his dog Witt and Cordie for her dogs Beelzebub and Lucifer. Other animals are just treated like objects. They carry guns around and driving while drunk is quite normal. Also it’s the era where black people were discriminated and were still referred to as negroes, a term that only seems not right to Duane and Dale. While the sixties were far from perfect this novel seems to overlook that part too easily or shoves it under the rug. Girls don’t play a big part either, except for Cordie but she’s put down as a stupid white trash kinda girl, and certainly not one of the boys, or part of their group, at least not until the final parts of the novel. 

The buildup is well-crafted but can also feel a bit slow and it takes a while for the supernatural shit hits the fan. But when it does and the supernatural dark forces are unleashed it suddenly becomes an action packed thrilling ride. Then it becomes the supernatural epic story we were promised and it delivers a creepy occult ghost story where anything can happen. But to some it might feel like a little too late.

My favorite part

My favorite character was definitely Duane. He was the smart one, the one that didn’t really fit, but who I thought was the most grown-up boy with empathy and brains. The part when he had to run for his life from the Rendering Truck with Witt in his arms, was the most heartbreaking moment of the book but also thrilling and full of courage and it really was very tangible. His search for what really a going on was the most enthralling part of the story and interesting, while the other boys were just being boys, reacting ad hoc and on pure luck. I didn’t like the choice to focus on the other five boys who weren’t nearly as interesting as Duane and too normal which would appeal to a bigger audience. 

A favorite quote

‘Few events in a human being’s life – at least a male human being’s life – are as free, as exuberant, as infinitely expansive and filled with potential as the first day of summer when one is an eleven-year-old boy. The summer lies ahead like a great banquet and the days are filled with rich, slow time in which to enjoy each course.’


Rating: ★★★☆☆

Epic factor: ★★★☆☆

Thrill factor: ★★★☆☆

Nostalgic factor: ★★★★☆

Gruesome factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆


Summer of Night is written by Dan Simmons and first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1991. It consists of 555 pages. 

book cover Summer of Night by Dan Simmons 21991

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