BOOK REVIEW: Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth

June 14, 2023

Review:  Eric Page

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.

How to manage doing what you know is essentially, utterly the right thing for you, but every strand of your social existence has the relentless mantra beating out of its centuries of repression, conservative traditions that it’s wrong, wrong wrong.  This book whispers to us of main protagonist Lucy’s inner life of rich metaphorical emotional complexity while offering no insights into what they might want from their life.  As her lesbian feelings start to blossom, and she recognises the potential for love in her friendship group, the anxious, tension is ramped up to terrifying teenager levels brilliantly.

Sunburn offers us a peek into blistering adolescent angst, a furious fission of elemental feelings exploding, boiling and churning with huge undercurrents sending out massive uninhibited flares that disrupt expectations and apparent paths forward. Sunburn displays the real shocking power of following your heart and how that upends the world,  leaving you capable of, but equaly terrified of leaping the abyss that opens up behind you, cutting off any return to how things were; before that kiss shattered reality into a million shimmering hopes of the possible.  Sunburn shows us bad choices, wrong decisions, fear guiding us and trembling grasping for hope, and a new way of being and loving,  in such a fragile nervy writing that it left me feeling anxious.

Bit by bit, moment by moment, sensual awareness rising like a tide around her, Lucy notes what catches her eye and ears, what turns her neck, what keeps her aware and conversely what doesn’t interest her at all.  Recognizing that her friendship with handsome village boy Martin is going to stay that way but feeling the urgency excitement and heart racing anticipation whenever the focus of her desire, Susannah was close.

The book centres and revolves around the relationships between women and how they change as those women, age, change and understand themselves and the nature of their relationships more. Lucy’s interdependent friendships evolve and stretch and strain as her relationships with Susannah explodes into passion, desire, and breathless recognising of true self. They commit their feelings to each other in heart breaking letters, writing with religious zeal and rococo romance. Such trembling, quivering passions.

The relationship with her mother is beautiful wrought, full of experience, spite, anger and challenging history.  Lucy’s own narrative understands that this visceral connection might end as she grows up, grasping to comprehend her mother’s bitterness and disappointment and how her own life has been stymied by the social pressures of whispering small-town life.  Her understanding of hard choices she needs to make to give herself and her mother a future as she herself matures from girl to women is a masterclass in narrative denouement.


Come along and hear & meet the author read from her book, on 22nd June 6:30pm @ Lucy & Yak in Kensington Gardens, Brighton as part of their Pride Month celebrations:  tickets are free, full event details and you can book here: 

You can expect:

– a celebration of queer fiction!

– an interview with the wonderful Chloe Howarth by Eric Page

– a chance to share your questions in a Q&A with the author

– the opportunity to win or purchase a copy of the book and get it signed!


Author Howarth wraps the protagonist’s passionate inner dialog up with tender perceptions and quakeing fears, all the time the beat of truth and logic overcoming fear as our maturing protagonist realises what she is, how her budding sexuality may come to define her, and what that means to her life. It’s done with real sympathy and allows the reader to feel the strength of this character as she struggles with the suffocating small-town expectations and demands of what a good girl like her should do; marry, settle down, have kids, conform.

Allowing the book to follow the characters a little later into their lives, after the sun-drenched summer of first love, gives a real sense of completeness, a proper although not easy, happy ending of sorts as Lucy chooses life, freedom and authentic life. Honest, Out, and true.

Lucy asks clearly and with passion the question that we all ultimately may stumble on ‘whose approval is necessary to truly be myself?

A beautiful coming of age love novel written with an insightful poetical prose, rich with religious allegory and texture which underscores the transformative, spiritual power of first love explored.

Out now!

For more info or to order the book see the publisher’s website here