Many readers likely discovered author May Cobb thanks to her novel The Hunting Wives, a 2021 Book of the Month club selection that followed the story of a women’s-only shooting club in East Texas. (Spoiler alert: It’s very fun, and this is absolutely how yours truly discovered Cobb’s work.) Her follow-up novel, titled My Summer Darlings and featuring a similar bubblegum bright and sultry cover, is the same sort of summertime popcorn thriller: Propulsive, full of unexpected twists, with more than a little spicy sexiness thrown on top to make it fun. The sort of story you accidentally find yourself devouring in an afternoon, simply because it’s so easy to promise yourself you’re only going to read one more chapter. (And then immediately break that promise in order to read one more.)
My Summer Darlings is essentially a book that’s been created in a lab to be read poolside with a Black Cherry White Claw close at hand—and I mean that in the best of all possible ways—while you gasp your way through several hundred pages of the bad choices and messed up relationship decisions that only ever seem to get made by well-off suburbanite women with little to lose. It is a book that is the definition of a guilty pleasure, and there is absolutely no shame in that. It is summer, there is a reason thrillers of all stripes are so popular this time of the year, and Cobb taps into the indulgent, escapist vibe of it all perfectly.
Like The Hunting Wives, My Summer Darlings is also set amongst the East Texas well-to-do and follows the story of three women who grew up together in the same suburban community where they have now become desperate housewives. This trio of friends spends most of their time drinking wine, complaining about the neighbors, and giving each other advice of varying quality about their absent husbands, dirtbag exes, or troublesome teenage children.
Kitty Spear is the former queen bee of their high school set and still sees herself as running things, socially speaking, in Cedartown. She struggles when she’s not the immediate center of attention, and her low self-esteem is something that often strains her relationships with both her friends and her own daughter (who is clearly mirroring many of Kitty’s worst traits when it comes to both honesty and men).
Cynthia Nichols is Kitty’s right-hand woman, the quiet organized type who would probably describe herself as the brains behind the throne. She’s in therapy to try to figure out how to finally ask for what she wants sexually and is probably the richest of the lot. Then there’s Jen Hansen, recently divorced and forced to move from Austin back into her childhood home (that her parents have conveniently vacated for her because this is that kind of story) in order to regroup. She’s not sure who she is or what she wants anymore, and she’s hoping reconnecting with her roots will help her figure it all out.
When painfully handsome newcomer Will moves into the neighborhood, everyone’s excited about the dishy new distraction. Especially Jen, who could really use a pick me up after her acrimonious breakup with her ex, Felix. But her obsession with the hot new guy in Cedartown blinds her to the fact that her BFFs are both sporting similar crushes on Will—which they may or may not be acting upon. The fact that Cobb never really lets us see Will’s POV means we don’t fully understand his motiations or which woman—if any—he’s truly interested in forming a relationship, a tic that can occasionally feel frustrating but largely mirrors textually the way that each of the story’s primary women view him as a kind of wish fulfillment, there to solve and sooth their particularly problems in middle age.
For half the book, the only reason you even have a sense that something darker’s going on in Cedeartown is that Cobb occasionally peppers in a fourth perspective, from a mysterious captured woman running for her life in the woods. Is she one of our main POV characters? Is she someone else? Is Will responsible for whatever has happened to her? Or is his too-good-to-be-true vibe some kind of red herring?
These are all questions My Summer Darlings eventually answers, in a breakneck final third of the story that just throws twist after twist at readers. Sure, some of them make very little sense from a character development perspective—you will likely find yourself wondering more than once how such smart and capable women can repeatedly make such dumb mistakes—but it’s all so propulsive and entertaining that it’s easy to handwave those away as minor narrative nitpicks in the service of a thrilling conclusion to Cobb’s story.
Fair warning: Almost no one in this book is particularly likable. The women of My Summer Darlings are certainly fun to read about: catty snobs with enviously posh and easy lifestyles (even the supposedly financially struggling Jen isn’t “poor”—perish the thought!—she’s essentially just mooching off her well-off parents while she occasionally thinks about teaching yoga). But none of them are especially good people and they’re all secretly terrible friends, with each betraying the others multiple times throughout the book.
That said, we’re not exactly reading this story because we want to like any of these people. We’re here for the drama, and Cobb delivers that in spades. Though it’s clear there is genuine love between these three women, they’re equally as likely to backstab one another as they are to be supportive. Despite its down-home sensibilities, this is still a story about upper-class elites and their values—and the lack of consequences most face for their choices—-reflects that. But isn’t that part of what makes reading books like this fun?
My Summer Darlings
is available now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.