Fourteen-year-old Riley McCullough has spent the last month ticking down the hours. She can’t wait for the final day of eighth grade, and enjoy the best summer ever with her best (only) friend, Amber. Her father left without so much as a goodbye six years ago, leaving an emotional void she’s never truly gotten over. Teasing and bullying have left her uninterested in school, or social contact.
A few days before summer starts, Amber’s parents spring a surprise graduation present―two weeks in Puerto Vallarta. Riley is crushed at the thought of being alone, watching two precious weeks of her vacation slip away.
While Riley is quite close to her mother, the woman works long hours and barely has time to do anything but rest when she’s home. Riley’s bedroom and video games provide shelter from an outside world she wants nothing to do with.
Unfortunately for Riley, her summer is about to get much, much worse.
Everything Riley knows gets flipped upside down. Her comfortable suburban-New-Jersey life disintegrates around her as her estranged father re-enters her life, and brings her with him across the country to the desolation of New Mexico.
Homesick and pining for the life she knew, Riley is slow to acclimate to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Her sense of isolation grows when the locals all stare at them with suspicion. Even with only a handful of kids her age in the area, she feels more alone than ever―until she meets Kieran.
His parents run the only restaurant in town, and he has big dreams of getting the hell out of there. Like Riley, he’s a gamer, and the two form an immediate bond on common ground. Despite her father’s best efforts to embarrass her to death, she crawls out of her shell a little with Kieran, and starts to wonder if ‘the town that time forgot’ might not be so horrible after all.
Then the bombs fall.
Her father drags her out of bed in the middle of the night as the world outside burns. He’d spent years expecting the end of the world, and whisks her to safety in an underground bunker. With nuclear war raging above them, Riley stares at the dust falling from the ceiling, wondering if anyone else survived.
The Summer the World Ended is a character-driven story told from Riley’s point of view, bringing the reader along on a heart-wrenching, emotional free fall from the mind of a teen in way over her head. She endures a maelstrom of grief, hope, love, terror, and determination as she tries to find her way through the enormous mess fate has made of her life.
I’ve written quite a few novels so far, and this is the only one where the emotional energy of a scene built up to such a point I had to take a break between chapters to clear my mind. Writing TSTWE was a whirlwind draft. Once I got going, Riley’s story infused almost every conscious moment. It consumed me, becoming the only thing I could think about until I’d finished it.