In Cole Lavalais’ debut novel Summer of the Cicadas, Viola “Vi” Moon hopes to leave her experience at a mental health facility behind when she enrolls in a small black college in the south, but the stability she hoped she’d gain fractures more quickly than she anticipated. Vi thinks the best way to regain her sanity is to begin a relationship with Perry, the only son of a black, Southern elite family. When Vi struggles to find her place in school and with Perry, she launches an obsessive search for the father she can’t fully remember or completely forget.

Summer of the Cicadas is a striking debut that challenges the reader to figure out what is real, what is true, and what is now. Lavalais turns the idea of legacy upside when characters are confronted with inheriting family secrets, mental illness, respectability politics, and deception. Who or what haunts us as we try to find ourselves, stuck with family names and histories we didn’t choose? How much of our histories should we hold on to as we prepare for our futures? In a telephone interview, Lavalais talked with me about the stigma of mental illness, diversity issues in publishing, and how black women writers can support each other.