'The Summer Children' is a Beautifully Twisted Crime Novel

FBI agent Mercedes Ramirez comes home one night to find a young boy, covered in blood and clutching a white teddy bear, on her front porch. The boy tells her that an angel all in white killed his abusive parents, and brought him to Mercedes’ doorstep where she told him that he’d be safe. Mercedes dives headfirst into the murder's investigation, and her team discovers that the boy’s parents weren’t just murdered, but brutally slaughtered in a wild rage. More and more children with the same story begin to appear on the agent’s doorstep, each one reminding Mercedes of her own painful childhood, and each one weighing down on her life and career. 

I’ve been following Dot Hutchison’s YA horror/thriller series, known as The Collector, since I read the first book, The Butterfly Garden, in 2017. That book and its sequel, The Roses of May, focused primarily on the stories of the victims, and secondarily on the investigation. Interestingly enough, The Summer Children alters this formula and focuses almost exclusively on Agent Ramirez and the investigation, and perhaps shifts out of the YA genre, since none of the characters are young adults. I found this change to be refreshing, but it may not be ideal for people who do not like crime/police procedural stories.

The things that made this novel for me were its lovable and well-developed characters, its gripping story, and Hutchison’s beautiful writing. Mercedes’ voice is so well-crafted and realistic. Hutchison shows her and the rest of her team going through devastating lows as well as the highs that remind them why they work for the FBI in the first place, as well as the in-between moments where they have to eat, sleep, drink coffee, and recharge. The book does this seamlessly, without ever being boring. A major fixture in the story is the relationship between the Crimes Against Children team, including Mercedes and her longtime partners Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison. They love each other a lot and have been through hell together, but they’re definitely not above mocking each other once in a while. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes crime stories and can handle graphic content including child abuse, rape, and violence.

The first two books look closely at the concepts of trauma and healing, and how those can look different for everyone. The Summer Children does this as well by showing how Mercedes copes with her own past abuse as well as how the children that are dropped on her doorstep cope. Some of the children are happy that their parents are dead, some are confused, and some grieve. The book also explores how deeply flawed our criminal justice system is, especially concerning abused children— but to Mercedes, her work is worth it if she can save some of them.