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Book Review: 'The Guncle' Offers A Sassy, Warm, Big-hearted Splash Into Summer Reading

This coming weekend is the unofficial kickoff to summer. Which means summer reading. Which means—for lots of folks—a little something light and funny, maybe set in a sunny locale.

Steven Rowley has written just the thing: The Guncle is a heartwarming story about a once-famous gay sitcom star who, after an unexpected family tragedy, gets custody of his niece and nephew for the summer. Gay Uncle Patrick—or GUP, for short—is thrust into the role of primary caregiver after Maisie and Grant lose their mother and their father has a health crisis of his own. The kids descend on Patrick’s home in Palm Springs, where they teach him the joys of YouTube and TikTok, and he teaches them the wonders of a remote-controlled, heated, lighted bidet.

The story is quirky and fun. Rowley’s gay characters at times feel stereotypical—Patrick flamboyantly sips champagne or pina coladas, wears flowered caftans and digs out his pink tinsel Christmas tree for a summertime pool party. But he cares for the children with humor and heart, and he helps guide them through their grief—and a California earthquake.

The author says the novel was inspired by actual events: In the spring of 2018, his two nephews came for a week-long visit to Palm Springs. Entertaining them required “conjuring my inner ‘Mame’ and being amusingly larger than life,” Rowley said. He knew what he wanted to write next, and “The Guncle”—or gay uncle—was born.

This novel isn’t War and Peace, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s light and sassy and warm—like an Aperol spritz atop a pink flamingo floatie. The perfect book for the upcoming summer season.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.