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Pub Date 19 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 5 Jun 2023
VERVE Books, Verve Books

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Sunburn is an astute and tender portrayal of first love, adolescent anxiety and the realities of growing up in a small town where tradition holds people tightly in its grasp. An atmospheric LGBTQIA+ love story and coming-of-age novel with the intensity of Megan Nolan's Acts of Desperation, the long hot summer of André Aciman's Call Me By Your Name and the female friendships of Anna Hope's Expectation.

It's the early 1990s, and in the Irish village of Crossmore, Lucy feels out of place. Despite her fierce friendships, she's always felt this way, and the conventional path of marriage and motherhood doesn't appeal to her at all. Not even with handsome and doting Martin, her closest childhood friend.

Lucy begins to make sense of herself during a long hot summer, when a spark with her school friend Susannah escalates to an all-consuming infatuation, and, very quickly, to a desperate and devastating love.

Fearful of rejection from her small and conservative community, Lucy begins living a double life, hiding the most honest parts of herself in stolen moments with Susannah.

But with the end of school and the opportunity to leave Crossmore looming, Lucy must choose between two places, two people and two futures, each as terrifying as the other. Neither will be easy, but only one will offer her happiness.

Sunburn is an astute and tender portrayal of first love, adolescent anxiety and the realities of growing up in a small town where tradition holds people tightly in its grasp. An atmospheric LGBTQIA+...

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Featured Reviews

Sunburn is a fantastic debut from a new author. A fresh coming-of-age tale set in the early 90s, it follows the main character Lucy as she grows up in a small village in rural Ireland.

As the novel begins, Lucy is content in her village, with the same people at school, on the same farm, with the same friends. Her fate of marrying her best friend Martin and settling down seemingly decided for her. However, she can’t avoid the growing feelings she has for her friend Susannah. Caught between unmoving conservatism and the possibilities which Susannah offers her, Lucy’s certainties of her future begin to crumble.

It appears that motherhood is the nearest thing to an inherited career that I can hope for

The heart of the novel is the intricacies of female relationships; those between mother and daughter, and with her friends. The dynamic within her friendship group changes as Lucy and Susannah’s relationship intensifies, putting pressure on friendships assumed unending.

Without the girls, I don’t know who I would be. They are a very big part of who I am. All my life, they have been laying a beautiful path for me, and I am so grateful for it.

As Lucy becomes more confident in herself, her relationship with her mother sours, leading her to have to make decisions that she dreads. Susannah also has a strained relationship with her mother, who is emotionally neglectful and has a reputation in the village.

I am afraid that we might all be our mothers’ daughters

The novel also focuses on the journey of becoming comfortable in yourself. And, more importantly, the confidence and courage that truly being yourself requires.

I think soon I will like myself all the way through, and I won’t mind what people think of me

With an engaging plot and characters, and wonderfully written, Sunburn is a joy to read. I encourage anyone who’s looking for a new queer coming-of-age tale to pick this one up!

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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "Never in all my years of Christianity has there been talk of an angel like this." This book was the most beautiful I have ever read. I don't really need to say much more than that, but I will.

Set in the early 1990s in Crossmore, Ireland, Lucy is trying to stay on the beaten track. Her main expectation for life is that she will marry her best friend, Martin. However, this path of life seems less and less appealing to her as she grows into her later teenager years. As the summer heats up, Lucy begins to notice Susannah, one of the girls in her friendship group, in a way she would have never expected. She is fixated on the being that is Susannah, on what makes her unique, and becomes utterly infatuated. However, being raised in a tiny village, where everyone knows everything about everyone, it seems there is no place for these feelings Lucy holds for Susannah. Until the lines between friendship and a relationship begin to blur, and Lucy and Susannah fall for each other, despite all arrows in life pointing them away from each other. The book focuses on the first love between two young girls who simply shouldn't, the delicacy and intricacy between the bonds of mother and daughter, and what to do when the one thing you know is right, is wrong to everyone else.

The feelings that Lucy has at the start when he notices her awareness of other women in her life was nothing short of perfection. At the start there are discussions on how Lucy admires other girls, but brushes it off as what all girls do, we all look upwards to other girls we wish to be like. "This admiration is the natural order, I'm sure". It notes so beautifully the feeling between wanting to be someone, and actually wanting someone. This is such a thoughtful insight into the mind of a young teenager who its struggling with discovering who they are and where they fall in life. It was so beautiful and so well-written. One of the best moments of Lucy's realisation, in my opinion, is where she was listening to Susannah eating. My ears starting ringing it was so descriptive. Never have these feelings in adolescence been so well captured.

I think one of the most integral relations in the book is that between Lucy and her mother. "My perfect mother, my sweet and stinging honeybee." I think that really encapsulates everything you need to know about the writing and the maternal relations in this book. Lucy is under the guise that one day the relationship between her and her mother will wane and just wishes to hold on what love she can get for her while she can. This was possibly one of my favourite relationships in the whole book, as under the strict ways that are followed in this tiny village, Lucy's sexuality places her in a vulnerable position with regard to her mother.

I can't not mention Susannah. Their relationship was one of my favourite I have ever read about. The religious language whilst reading about the girls first love was truly a special read. These young girls know what they are supposed to be, yet they follow what they know feels right, society be damned. "I would drape my own soul over her body to protect her from eyes like mine". It's just incredible.

The plot of this book is very strong as not only do you get to see Lucy's relationship with other characters (Martin, friend-group from school, family) you get to see her grow up, and grow into her own skin in which as she becomes more comfortable, others begin to peel away on. I cannot fault this book, and I cannot criticise any of the characters decisions, for they were so young.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It was incredibly beautiful so perfect if you're looking for a book regarding coming-of-age, and coming to know and understand your own sexuality, you simply must read it. Thank you netgalley for the arc! And thank you Chloe for such a beautiful book.

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Well written book on sensitive topics handled with care. It was just a good story and I will recommend it even to people who its not written for. Enlightening!

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Thank you for the digital review copy VERVE Books!

As brilliant as the sun! Chloe Michelle Howarth wrote a marvellous book.

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this was such a fantastic debut. i really enjoyed reading this book and loved following the story of lucy. watching her go from having her life with martin planned to her first interaction with susannah and their relationship together was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

this novel deals with the importance of relationships and how delicate they can be - especially a mother and daughter relationship. i cried many times when seeing the relationship that lucy had with her mother - it was so heartbreaking and i truly hated her mother.

my heart really goes out for lucy; she has to make some horribly painful decisions over her life. she wanted to fit in and be the person that others wanted her to be rather than who she wanted to be. i loved seeing her grow and feel more and more comfortable with herself and her identity.

this book was written beautifully. thank you so much for writing this book. it was so heartbreaking and endearing.

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I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth courtesy of @netgalley. I was thrilled to get to read this as I do love a coming of age story, and the Evening Standard have named it as ‘one to watch in 2023’.
Set in the early 1990s, in a small Irish village where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and the Church is a huge part of people’s lives, Lucy is a teenager with her future mapped out for her. Only, Lucy feels different, and the thoughts of becoming the doting housewife to her best friend, Martin, that everyone assumes for her, does not hold any joy at all.
Instead, we see Lucy’s self proclaimed ‘admiration’ for her friend Susannah unfold, and we journey with her as she realises that her feelings are more than fondness for her friend: we see her fall in love, lust and feel the overwhelm, self absorption and anxiety that can come with that. Add in that she is discovering who she is, and part of that being attracted to a female, looked on as wrong in her community, and this becomes a real heartbreaking, empathy evoking, deep insight into a troubled teenage mind.
Oh my heartbreak for Lucy, as she tries to stifle her feelings, how she believes if she works at it she can learn to love Martin, and keep to her family’s expectations. I loved the quote about her mother when thinking about her reaction to discovering she was a lesbian and how everything would change between them: “my sweet and stinging honeybee”. Beautifully tragic.
We see her absolute happiness with Susannah and I wished and wished she would be true to herself rather than hide away this beautiful relationship. The way she talks about her love is so tender, honest and nostalgic of that all consuming discovery of love, I felt the author really captures and conveys this:
“It is beyond words. This isn’t a feeling, it is a state if being... She has put herself at the centre of my attention, she has taken control of my emotions, and I feel her thrashing around within me, so intensely. I pray she will never go”.
I recommend this to those that enjoy a love story, and a read that is packed with emotion.

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Well that was an absolutely devastating read…

It’s rural Ireland in the early 90s, and Lucy is reaching that fateful period of adolescence where everything changes - friendship groups are becoming brittle, gazes are turned towards the boys, and the end of school is tantalisingly close.

Over the course of a hot, dusty summer, she finds herself torn between her solid respectable best friend, Martin, who has loved Lucy his whole life, and the beautiful, dangerous Susannah, who stirs up feelings that threaten everything Lucy’s religious and conservative upbringing has taught her.

It’s sweet and soul-crushing, slamming you right back to the feverish crushes and hidden secrets of your teenage years, and then proceeds to slowly break your heart into achingly small pieces.

Sunburn is a classic queer coming of age story, but with the added bonus of 90s nostalgia and the gentle tragedy of small-town adolescence. It’s beautifully written and you should absolutely add it to your TBR when it comes out in June ‘23.

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‘Sunburn’ really appealed to me because it is hyper focused on those formative teen summers where every drama is heightened and every emotion feels endless. There is just something so atmospheric and evocative in Howarth’s novel that I really was drawn in from the first chapter.
Lucy lives in 1990’s Ireland where there is an expected path for girls to follow and she feels intensely out of place everywhere except when she is with Susannah. There are so many coming-of-age tropes within this story but it all still feels fresh and devastating in the best way. I loved the way Howarth portrays Lucy’s internal struggle from the beginning to the end of the novel but it never feels exhaustive or laboured:She sculpts the tale across a span of extended time but the flow still felt easy to read and kept me turning the pages.
Lucy and Susannah’s relationship was so enigmatic and captures the intensity of first love whilst also feeling subtle and nuanced in the pain and heartbreak that ultimately comes from such chemistry. Overall this was an incredibly strong storyline but because it is written with such aching longing that falls off of the page it is easily one of my favourite reads for this year. Loved it.

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This stunning, heart-warming, powerful novel tells the story of Lucy, a young woman in 1990s Ireland, who falls in love with someone she can't be with. Susannah is the light of Lucy's life, the sun to her moon, and yet Lucy is forced to deny their love, by her family, her community, tradition, fear and prejudice.

'All I've done is fall for Susannah. It is not shameful or radical or wild, Anybody would fall for Susannah. I never meant to upset anybody.'

Chloe Michelle Howarth perfectly encapsulates what it is to fall in love, and how our boundaries can only be broken if we are brave enough to break them down.

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Have you ever felt out of place, unsure of your path in life, and willing to risk everything for a chance at true happiness? Chloe Michelle Howarth's "Sunburn" will take you on the journey of one young woman's self-discovery and her heart-wrenching choice between the intensity of true love, and the safety of conventionality.

This novel centres around Lucy, a young woman who feels out of place in the small Irish village she lives in. She thinks everything is already set and decided for her - she'll grow up and marry her best friend Martin, despite not having any feelings for him, and they'll live off of his family's farm. Until, during the summer, a spark ignites between Lucy and her friend Susannah and that spark quickly ignites into an all-consuming love affair.

I truly don't think I have enough words to describe how incredible this book is. The way Howarth captured Lucy's slow realisation of her feelings for Susannah in the beginning is incredible. Seeing their relationship blossom was beautiful - the chemistry between them was literally palpable on the page. Like "I would drape my own soul over her body to protect her from eyes like mine" are you kidding me?????

The prose in this book is some of the best I've ever read - it's lyrical and evocative. Every page is so full of rich descriptions that make you feel like you are there with the characters.

I cannot believe this is a debut. I am so excited to read Howarth's future works because this was beyond incredible. Highly recommend to anyone looking for an LGBT coming-of-age story - this is the one.

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Wow what a read!… I was up all night reading this…
Thanks netgalley for sending me this copy. I really enjoy

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I love a self awareness in a protagonist and this book has it in spades.
I really recommend to everyone. With thanks to the publishers and author for allowing me to read this book before publication
Can’t wait to read more from this author

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Howarth almost perfectly distills the anxiety and self-loathing that young queer people experience when growing up in a community they know will reject their true identity. Lucy is such an interesting character because she's so blatant with the reader about her attraction to Susannah, that her fear of their relationship being known by others creates a dichotomy that heads naturally, sadly, into her double life as a young adult.

The internal dialogue is impeccable: despite the heartbreak she feels through most of the novel, Lucy is witty, cynical, self-deprecating, and a little bit sassy. I really vibe with her level of self-awareness and acknowledgement of the hurt she causes trying to avoid her own pain. Definitely would recommend!

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A wonderful sapphic coming of age/ romance set in a rural Irish village in the early 90's. It follows a young girl, Lucy, as she contemplates whether she should follow the life that her family has planned for her, marrying her friend Martin and being a mother, or if she should go against what is expected of her and let herself fall for her friend, susannah. But it's so much more than that, it's about love, pressure, stigma, family, friendship, growing up and making a life for yourself while also not knowing who you are, what you want or who you want to be.

It has beautiful, poetic writing and one of the best first pages I've ever read. I'm not usually one for romance type books but this was wonderful and beautiful and one I'll be thinking about and recommending for a while

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Thankyou for advanced copy. Overall I enjoyed this book. Found some of the narrative quite gossipy however it is focusing on a teenage Lucy finding her way through finishing school and finding out who she in the world. Would recommend and would read more by this author.

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"𝘛𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘴𝘪𝘯, 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘦𝘥𝘺."

This is so much more than your average coming of age novel. I am lost for words after finishing it so I'll try my best with this review.

First of all, I can't believe this is a debut?! Chloe's writing all the way through is almost poetic and so addicting, I didn't want to put it down. My favourite thing is how it's written in first person from Lucy's POV— several parts felt like she was talking directly to the reader and this made the general story all the more heart wrenching but so good to read. I honestly don't think it would have worked as well had it been written any other way.

The way we were led through Lucy's journey of self-discovery throughout her teenagehood was devastating and exhilarating all at the same time. Her early feelings of knowing she's different to the people she's grown up with was all too familiar; add to that being surrounded by religion and a fractured mother/daughter relationship, it makes for a crushing but necessary read.

As well as the main love story, I loved how the difficulties surrounding female friendships were highlighted.
"𝘚𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢 𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘰𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶'𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮."
Some parts felt harsh to read but it was easy to be reminded of Lucy's young age and she was able to be excused, I found myself empathising with her a lot of the time.

Overall, this was an amazingly written and sensitive portrayal of queer first love, teenage anxieties and growing into a young adult all while feeling out of place in an area you're slowly but surely outgrowing.

There are so many more thoughts I wish I could put into words about this novel but I think it's one of those that you will have to read for yourself to really get it.
I can definitely see why this has been selected as 'one to watch in 2023'— I'm not exaggerating when I say this is without a doubt one of my favourite books I've read so far this year.

Thanks to Netgalley, Chloe Michelle Howarth & Verve Books for the digital arc in exchange for an honest review!

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3.5 ⭐️

This coming of age story really captured me. I fell in live from the start, sinking into the ordinary lives of these teens and reminiscing about my own teenage years. I also enjoyed seeing how feeling sprouted, and the romance began to bloom.

I do feel like there were bits during the last third of the book that dragged a bit for me and my interest dwindles a bit.

Overall, enjoyed the writing, loved that we were in the early 90s, love that it takes place in Ireland, and also deals with some serious topics along the way.

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Lucy is turning 18 in the early 90s. She should be falling in love with Martin who is her kind, respectable neighbour (well, his house is closest to hers) and would please Mother as well as her best friend but over the course of a summer she falls in love with Susannah.

This is an intense and lyrical coming of age story. I felt as if Lucy was telling me her story over a few bottles of wine as she puffed cigarettes. I loved every second of it. I could see, hear, taste, smell, feel what was happening. It is one of the most beautiful coming of age novels I’ve ever read. I’ll remember it a long time and already want to revisit it.

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Thank you to Netgalley, Chloe Michelle Howarth and the publisher, Verve Books, for providing me with an Arc of this stunning book.

Just like actual sunburn, this book has left a mark on me, a slightly painful one that I am constantly tempted to press on to feel its hurt again.
I don't always love a first person narrative, it's not easy to get right but it's perfect here. It's not overpowering. In fact the story is very atmospheric, the characters are vibrant and Lucy, our main character, is relatable. Although she comes to read herself as selfish, she is simply afraid and has some growing up to do to really become herself.
I must tell you how in love I am with this book. It's hard to believe it is the author's debut! I got caught in my feelings with this one, just writing about it brings tears to my eyes still. Lucy's love for Susannah is suffocating in a good way. It takes over everything else on the page and I could only root for them and their relationship. However do not be mistaken, it is more than just a love story, it's a coming of age, an observation of small towns and outdated views of morality. This book comments on so much but never spreads itselfs thin. It's such a perfect portrayal of what teenagehood feels like as a girl, of what falling in love for the first time feels like. uuugh, it's hard to find the right words to tell you how much I adored it. I only just finished it and I already want to read it again.

Also very seriously, I will be so pissed if this does not become a huge bestseller and isn't made into a stunning, aesthetic, saphic movie!!
I beg of you to read this! It comes out September 2023 and you can preorder it now off of Waterstones, Amazon and the likes!

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This coming-of-age novel is set in Ireland in the 90s. If you think oh, another summer where somebody makes sense of her sexuality, you're mistaken. It's such a surprise, and what a good one. It deals with finding yourself on so many levels, depicts the relationship not only between friends and lovers, but also with mothers, and captures the spirit and problems of growing up.

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I absolutely love love loved this book! Being a) from Ireland, b) someone who went to an all-girls catholic school, and c) someone who identifies as bisexual, this book was fantastic! It took me a short day and a half to read, just because it was so honest and relatable that it was like reading my own thoughts. I thought the characters were great: real, true, and gritty. It reminded me of Call Me By Your Name, in that that too is like reading my own thoughts. Will definitely be recommending! Thank you for the ARC!

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“𝙒𝙚 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙨𝙤 𝙛𝙖𝙧 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙮 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜. 𝙈𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙨, 𝙢𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙮, 𝙢𝙚𝙣, 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙮. 𝙊𝙪𝙧 𝙨𝙢𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙡𝙙 𝙚𝙭𝙥𝙡𝙤𝙙𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙖𝙙𝙚 𝙣𝙚𝙬. 𝙒𝙚 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙣𝙡𝙮 𝙩𝙬𝙤 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙞𝙣 𝙞𝙩. 𝙇𝙤𝙣𝙜 𝙢𝙖𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙩.”

I’ve been on something of a sapphic reading run this year but Sunburn takes the cake. I also don’t think anybody else should bother writing coming-of-age novels, this is the only one you’ll ever need. It was devastating and gorgeous and I loved every second of it.

In a remote Irish village, where everybody knows everything about everyone, Lucy grapples with the uncertainty we all felt towards the end of school, not knowing what her future holds. She seemingly has her path laid out for her: a future devoted to her best friend, the boy next door, who’s conveniently smitten by her. But what happens when you realise that the easy road goes against your every instinct?

And so we’re taken on her journey of self-discovery: a passionate yet tender relationship with one of her best friends that comes alive in stolen moments, which is implicitly marred by shame, religious guilt and the fear of being found out. Their love is written with such a palpable intensity which so accurately captures the feeling of falling for the first time. Alsoooo, the epistolary aspect? Adored it. A recent discovery I’ve made about myself is that I LOVE (love) letters in novels - think This Is How You Lose the Time War and In the Absence of Men - and the secret passing of their notes in the school corridors evoked a very nostalgic feeling in me, while the emails exchanged in their adulthood were truly gut-wrenching🥹.

This was an emotional ride and though Lucy and her decisions were (at times) beyond frustrating, I found it difficult not to empathise and feel her confusion and inner conflict as if it were my own. The love story aside, many other issues were explored so eloquently: the identity struggle around her sexuality, the stifling nature and toxicity of ‘small-village mentality’, the complexity of mother/daughter relationships, estrangement in friendships and the precarious essence of the future - to name a few.

I couldn’t believe this was a debut. Howarth’s prose is so lyrical and immersive and I can’t wait to read more of her work!

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"Perhaps we are all just islands, as wild and merciless as each other...Perhaps there is no remedy for it, and all we can do is learn which parts of ourselves to deny and which parts to bring into the light."

Thank you, NetGalley and Verve Books for allowing me to read Chloe Michelle Howarth's wonderful novel, Sunburn. I've been sneaking reading sessions in between work because I've been so engrossed in hearing more from our narrator, Lucy. She is a young woman from a small Irish village where everyone her age is seemingly destined to follow in their parents' footsteps: the girls become mothers and the boys become farmers. That's just the way it's always been. But Lucy is not like everyone else in Crossmore. This novel explores the complexities of adolescence, the excitement and heartache of first love, and the struggle to fit into familial/cultural/religious traditions. I loved the setting of this novel, and I especially admired Howarth's masterful lyricism that made me feel like I really knew Lucy. I would recommend this to anyone who loves coming-of-age stories and has an appreciation for rich, melodic prose.

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A beautiful coming of age story told through the lens of Ireland in the 90's. Lucy, our protagonist, paints the landscape of a rural Irish village in the 90's, where you know everyone and everyone knows everything about you. The closeness of this community can be seen as comforting and suffocating in the same beat when Lucy starts to discover her true self and the differences she has compared to the regular teens of the town. As Lucy explores the feelings she has for her friend Susannah, the author does a wonderful job of reminding you of the difficulties coming out entailed not that long ago. Lucy's fears and realisations of her sexuality and interwoven with the thoughts of first love, infatuation and obsession. Susannah and Lucy are such a warm lovely couple written so delicately and simply true to teen love. Their relationship comes second however to my favourite relationship in the book, between Lucy and her mam. Her love for her devotion and the fear she has about losing her and so immaculately written, you are left feeling all the emotions of Lucy as you read.

A beautifully queer, Irish, coming-of-age story that will ring through for many no matter their age.

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Y'all. I am devastated.
Devastated that this book exists, devastated that it's over, devastated that it only came to me so recently. I want to have this book for my entire life; I never want to let it go again now that I have it.

This truly is one of the best works of literature I've ever read. Howarth is a writer of unparalleled talent. The language is some of the most beautiful I have ever encountered. The topic is one of the most heartbreaking I ever encountered.

Sunburn is a book about first love, yes, but it's so much more than that. A lot of it resonates with me, simply because the feeling of not fitting in is so universal, but a lot of this book I will never truly understand, because around this whole plot is the inherent difference of growing up in Ireland during the late eighties and early nineties, something that is so specific to Ireland's culture during that time that someone who isn't from there simply cannot fathom. But what I do understand is that feeling of not being heterosexual in a culture that places so much worth onto religion. Our main character, Lucy, struggles to balance her love for a girl with her faith and her need for family and friends to be on her side, eventually having to decide between a possibly uncertain, but happy future, and a certain but restricting past.

One thing that this book does really, really well is mood and word choice. Many times while reading did I marvel at how perfectly the title "Sunburn" fits this work, simply because when Lucy and Susannah are together, their love feels blisteringly hot like sunburnt skin and sticky like suncream; when Lucy conforms to her family and belief system by pretending to be in love with Martin, you can feel the cold seep into the sentences like cold winter light filtering through skeletal trees. Susannah and Lucy's relationship is, while certainly not completely healthy, so wonderful and warm, with Susannah often being described as being like the sun, like some sort of stand-in to be worshipped when Lucy cannot see how to cope with her religion telling her that what she is is wrong. I love that we see the happy times of Lucy and Susannah, because lesbian couples in fiction are so often portrayed as either toxic and obsessive or inherently manipulative (think Evelyn Hugo and Celia St. James) or just sexualized for the male gaze (blue is the warmest color). Lucy and Susannah are happy. They love each other. Sure, there is some drama, because otherwise, we wouldn't have a story, and sure, they are flawed human beings, because they are teenagers, but at the root of it all, they love each other. And that was just so, so, so beautiful to read.

TLDR: Absolutely gorgeous. Please, please, please read this book. Preferably outside in the blistering sun.

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I really enjoyed this one. I was hooked from the beginning and totally absorbed in Lucy’s story.

Set in the 90’s, a rural village in Ireland - Lucy felt like her life plan was written for her. She just never felt comfortable in the idea that, that’s all there was for her.

I loved how well the story explored Lucy’s feelings and the dynamics surrounding her relationships with other women. The development between her and Susannah’s relationship was so well done. It was tender, intense and at times, heartbreaking.

I loved seeing the growth in Lucy, how she develops and grows in herself and her ideas. As much as I felt for Martin, I’m glad she got there in the end.

A beautiful, nostalgic, coming of age story that’ll have you hooked from the first sentence.

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Engrossing, infuriating, and at times heart-breaking, this was a truly great read and I look forward to reading more from Chloe Michelle Howarth.
Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the chance to read this ARC.

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set in crossmore, ireland, in the early 1990s, 'sunburn' follows lucy, a teenage girl who is relatively content with her rural life and its lack of complexities, but has always felt out of place. unlike her friends and the women in her family, lucy couldn't be less interested in following the traditional path of marriage and motherhood, and although she tries her best to let him, even her adoring childhood best friend, martin, can't change her mind.

susannah, a girl in lucy's friend group, is the one who has her heart. when the two develop an unlikely secret relationship, lucy discovers a happiness she didn't know was possible, and spends all of her final year at school crumbling under the looming presence of societal and familial expectations.

this book is so beautifully written, and perfectly captures the whirlwind of all-consuming teenage infatuation, which quickly becomes gut-wrenching love. i fell completely in love with lucy and susannah's stolen moments - lying on the grass in the summer sun, subtly flirting in public, writing tender letters back and forth.

howarth expertly captures the devastating realities of growing up as a lesbian in a conservative small town, particularly in lucy's frustration at having to choose between two versions of herself when she knows only one will fulfil her. i also loved her explorations of catholic guilt, mother-daughter relationships, feeling isolated in female friendships, and small-town politics. the narrative is well paced, the characters are well developed, and honestly, the whole book is just a work of art.

an absolutely stellar debut.

thanks so much to verve books for the arc!

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Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth
Publishes 22nd June 2023


Lucy and her close knit group of friends are coming to the end of their school lives, and all they can talk about is boys. But, for Lucy, it’s all for show - while her friends are convinced that her and her neighbour are soulmates, she’s still waiting to get that giddy feeling for anyone. That is, until she starts to see Susannah, one of her best friends, in a different light. Howarth takes us through all the seasons of small-town Ireland in the 90s as Lucy figures out what this means, and how these feelings might devastate her life.

I had seen rave reviews for this one before starting, and was worried it might not live up to the hype - turns out I had nothing to be worried about because this was a brilliant read. Howarth managed to portray the feelings of a naive adolescent figuring out her life so naturally, and the emotions are so raw and vivid it could spark a few tears. I loved the almost stream of consciousness style, allowing us to really feel absorbed into Lucy’s thoughts, and watch her make decisions, whether they’re what we would want or not. As I was reading this, I felt like I was almost watching a movie play out, the scenery and the atmosphere was just so vivid and realistic.
One I would recommend to everyone.

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I don’t even know where to begin. This novel surpassed all my expectation. I knew a sapphic coming of age set in 1990’s Ireland was going to be right up my street but I did not expect the prose to be so good.

The novel was heartbreaking, romantic, poetic, full of complicated friendships, strained mother/daughter relationships, the summer heat of Ireland and the mundane days we spend in small towns.

Lucy was such a superb character. Inwardly feeling as though she doesn’t belong but portraying herself to those around her as though she fits in. We are given clear insight into the complicated feelings and world of Lucy, her relationships with Susannah and Martin and feeling torn between who she wants to be and who she is expected to me.

I want to cherish this novel forever.

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🧡Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth🧡

It’s the early 1990s, and in the Irish village of Crossmore, teenage Lucy feels a sense of nonbelonging; sure, outwardly, she does what she thinks she should - having fierce good friendships, making the right noises about boys, parties, helping her mam mind her siblings, but she is disquieted.

Until that is, Lucy begins to make sense of herself during a long hot summer, when a spark with her school friend Susannah escalates to an all-consuming infatuation and soon escalates and sends her into an emotional tailspin.

Lucy is torn - she is wildly in love with Susannah, but she’s been reared to think this class of carry on is sinful and a fit cause for banishment either beyond the convent walls or just away from the family home as that’s what happened to the last lesbian she knew. This is a shame she doesn’t understand; how can something that feels so good be wrong? Her guilt and fear is palpable. Don’t be forgetting homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993.

Despite Susannah’s assurances that everything will be grand, Lucy is determined to keep the whole thing a secret. But as her school years come to a close, she’s also confronted with the possibility of moving out of her small town and facing a new kind of future she’d never considered before. Two futures, two loves, and two places - each option is as terrifying as the other. How will she choose?

Being immersed in Lucy’s life offers a peek into blistering adolescent angst, which, regardless of your sexual orientation, will resonate deeply with most. That’s not to say Lucy is a particularly nice person though.

If I have one small bit of a criticism, it’s the language the teenagers use. They don’t, on the whole, speak like you’d expect. They reflect on each other, sounding like the adults, so maybe it’s intentional. Anyhow, it’s lyrical and evocative and perfectly gripping all the same.

Sunburn is a sapphic coming-of-age novel of epic proportions. Add it to your summer reading schedule now! 5⭐️

Thank you to NetGalley and Verve Books for this advance review copy in return for an as always honest review.

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‘I would drape my own soul over her body to protect her from eyes like mine’

Set in a small town in rural Ireland, Lucy knows she’s not supposed to feel the way she does about her best friend Susannah. What she doesn’t expect is for Susannah to feel the same way back.

Told in absolutely gorgeous prose, Sunburn tells the story of young love, first love, that confusing moment when the lines between friendship and romance blur. I adored how I felt right in the middle of Lucy’s house or Susannah’s garden. I could feel the heat, the tension, the atmosphere of worry and lust and disapproval. This is a very special book, and has hit very close to my heart. It’s a perfect summer book and I can see myself rereading it many times to come.

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The only Sunburn you want this Summer. Beaut prose, contemporary writing set in the 9os, unputdownable queer slow burn love epic. A coming of age story with the maturity of adult writing that will have you rooting for two well developed characters with unique views and feelings.

One of my must reads for summer. Look forward to seeing what Chloe Michelle Howarth does next.

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Thank you to netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC for this book.

I felt so many emotions reading this that it’s hard to put a review together. This book perfectly displayed the arduous journey that is growing up and finding yourself. Howarth’s writing is beautiful, and perfectly captures the aching, longing, narrative. The characters are complex and feel like real people living in these pages, it feels personal and intimate, like you’re there experiencing this.

The novel confronts what growing up is like for so many queer people. The guilt felt for just existing, and the sacrifices people are forced to make to be theirselves was handled so deftly, giving the narrative such power and meaningful weight. Tragedy permeates every word, knowing how hopeless growing up like this can feel.

It’s difficult to say anymore other than I highly recommend this book. It surprised me with how much it made me feel, and how much it made me think about how love changes us irreparably.

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This is such a suffocating book in the best possible way. It's so raw and all encompassing and I can't stop thinking about it. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Lucy is an inherently flawed character but it's so easy to root for her when you think of how the odds are stacked against her - how the smalltown lifestyle hindered her from being her true self and loving Susannah. It's devastating to watch it unfold. Usually when characters use people and cheat the way Lucy did I dislike them immediately but I could feel her suffocation and unhappiness through the page. Absolutely stellar.

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Every now and again I come across a book that has the potential to become huge because it captures the essence and struggles of a time so well. Sunburn is one of those books. It is a queer coming of age story set in rural Ireland spanning across the 80's and 90's that beautifully captures the struggle of taking the leap to be yourself in a country that has a rigid set of views as to what a life well lived looks like. (Remember it was a criminal offence to be gay in Ireland up until the early 90's, and many of the church scandals had not come to light yet, anything that was outside of the norm had the potential to be extremely alienating.)
This is a heart-breaking story of what it is to want to belong in the traditional sense and what it means to come to the realisation that at some point you have to step away from that situation for the sake of your own well-being. The books focuses on the story of Lucy, who is slowly having to come to terms with her feelings for her friend Susannah and what happens as their relationship blossoms and crumbles. It is a story that shows the conservative voice of Ireland at the time perfectly, from Lucy's interactions with her mother and her friends, to how their attitude changes when she does what they feel is the "normal" thing. It also captures the fear that queer youth can have when it comes to acceptance by their own.
"Sunburn" is the story that I wish I had had during my own teenage years, coming to terms with my sexuality in Ireland in the 2000's. It was an enthralling, bittersweet read that I cannot recommend enough (particularly if you're story is not simple, which for so many of us is the truth).

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Sunburn is the debut novel by Irish writer Chloe Michelle Howarth. Set in 1990s Cork, it focuses on the love affair between introspective Lucy and fiery Susannah, and the impact this secret has on their small village of Crossmore. Set 7 years before being gay was decriminalised in Ireland, it’s a gorgeous book; a slow-burn full of longing, angst and the very specific pain of being a teenage girl.

So, in short: hook it directly to my veins.
Sunburn is narrated by Lucy in an inner monologue style: we are immediately invited into Lucy’s world, where she acknowledges that she is “at a very tricky age. She is 15 and has not yet developed crushes on boys – but she’s hoping to. Yet Susannah, her close friend, catches Lucy’s eye more intensely than any boy – Lucy’s unrequited, feverish crush on Susannah becomes intense and all-consuming very quickly.

The earlier parts of the novel are less preoccupied with Susannah; Howarth takes us through the motions of an Irish teenage summer, perfectly capturing the heady joys and anxieties experienced by Lucy and her girls. I think a little suspension of disbelief is required around Lucy’s language – evocative, lyrical and flowery, it’s nonetheless nothing close to how a teenager would think or talk. But once I got past this, I was riveted by Lucy and Susannah – Lucy’s infatuation, Susannah’s charisma, all set against the backdrop of long, hot summers.
This is a gorgeously written book; it’s hard to believe that Howarth isn’t a published poet or novelist, and also that she’s only in her mid-fecking-twenties. Maybe youth is on her side in how perfectly she captures teenage angst, as well as teenage love, though. The love story in this novel is blistering, all consuming: despite sensing how it would all end, I was hooked and desperately believing for another outcome.

But Howarth is a realist, and does a great job evoking the social and political difficulties of the times Lucy and Susannah find themselves in. Sunburn doesn’t shy away from how homophobic this Ireland was, and how resistant it was to anyone different. Lucy is infatuated with Susannah but also desperate to be normal –as teen girls are – and it’s this central tension that propels the narrative. Lucy makes a series of terrible decisions in order to try and have her cake, and eat it: the consequences of this are plainly laid out, and painful to read. The story doesn’t shy away from Lucy’s faults, both real and imagined.
Sunburn is an addictive, honey-dipped queer love story that manages to capture the specific feeling of a long, hot Irish summer, too. Absolutely one of my reads of the year so far.

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I loved it so much. the writing style was amazing I couldn't stop reading, made me feel all sorts of feelings

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Oh this book transported me back in time. What a read.
Set in '90s Ireland, Sunburn is a stunning book full of longing and wanting and forcing oneself to conform. Its a coming of age story set in when Ireland herself hadn't yet come of age. The author captures this age and point in time with such heart aching accuracy.

The writing is so tender and realistic and I wanted to go back in time and tell Lucy it would all work out and she'd be ok . An incredible debut, the little details helped the main story to soar, I loved this book and can't wait to read more from this author, what a talent.


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Amazing. So gorgeously written, it was like reading poetry. The pages flew by, one after the other, carrying the reader through in a way that felt effortless. And yet despite the ease of the writing, the story was suffused with tension, conflict and heartache.

It recreates the love of a hometown which is not good for you, where familiarity is confused with safety and comfort, and the fear of leaving, or worse, being rejected and unable to return, clouds your judgement. It tells a common story for queer people in such intimate detail that it feels new, and yet echoes with all of the histories that have gone before it.

Despite so much pain, self-doubt and punishment, there was also tenderness, sweetness and self-sacrifice. The mother-daughter dynamic encapsulated the difficulty of growing up and facing the world as it is, and not as you hoped it would be; while the depiction of girlhood friendships was so accurate – petty and cruel, loyal and defensive, snarling at you or with you. This novel just hit so many sweet spots, it is the perfect coming together reality and fiction.

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“Sunburn” is the most beautiful sapphic coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read. It follows protagonist Lucy who is in her late teens and lives in a rural Irish town in the early 90s. Everybody expects her to be in love with her childhood friend, Martin, but instead she falls for Susannah—beautiful, free, untraditional, cool Susannah. The novel covers four (or five?) summers in which Lucy slowly discovers which kind of woman she is or wants to be.
The relationship between Lucy and Susannah constantly gave me butterflies. Their love letters are so well crafted and romantic—Lucy’s words and descriptions are so heartfelt that they made me fall in love with Susannah, too.
“Sunburn” is a novel about a first love that is infatuating and all-consuming, but so real and beautiful. It’s about juggling social expectations, tradition, and one’s own desires. And lastly, it’s about deciding which life to live when all of the options are somewhat terrifying.

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I absolutely adored this book, definitely my read of the summer. This book actually feels sunsoaked and I am obsessed. The story was so sad and beautiful, moving and hopeful all at once. Such a complex exploration of identity, sexuality and trying to please everyone in your life at the expense of your own happiness.

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A beautifully written book which was almost heartbreaking in its prose. I don't want to ruin anything but ease read this book

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THE COVER, THE VIBES, THE ATMOSPHERIC AURA OF THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD. I'll definitely grab a finished copy of this one!

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