Simply? This is just the intelligent summer read that you need for your beach bag.
This is my first novel by Elin Hilderbrand … although this accomplished author has 23 to choose from … and I was really impressed. She writes with heart and intelligence with excellently crafted characters. In fact, one of the aspects I enjoyed most about this novel, was her ability to create so many (at least 8) fully realized characters.
The story takes place over the summer of … no surprise here … 1969, on the idyllic sounding Nantucket island and Martha’s Vineyard. It follows the Levin family as they struggle with the drastically changing political and social climate, their son & brother in Vietnam, and family secrets. Everything from women’s rights, women entering the male dominated work spaces, mixed race couples, alcoholism, blended families, the burgeoning field of psychotherapy and its stigma, the devastatingly conflicted Vietnam war, the fight against (and for) change and the ever present mother-child relationship with all its ups and downs.
Golden son Tiger has been sent to Vietnam just before the family departs for the annual tradition of summer on Nantucket. This sends the family into a tailspin, but most severely perfect-to-the-eye mother Kate. Daughter Blair is pregnant with twins and stuck in Boston struggling with her marriage and mother/wife/work self balance; Kirby is trying to find her identity & independence after the end of a tumultuous, toxic relationship – breaking with tradition and spending the summer on Martha’s Vineyard (gasp!). 13 year old Jessie is left without her siblings for the first time on Nantucket as she struggles with burgeoning puberty, first love, and trying to stay out of the way. At the top of it all is Exalta, the cantankerous, opinionated and tradition bound matriarch of the whole gang.
It’s a great cast of characters centring around strong women dealing with individual hardships, changes, and very real family dynamics — supporting each other (and not!). Woven throughout are the very real political and social milestones of the late ‘60s: moon landing, Woodstock, and the protests: Vietnam, equal rights, etc. Elin Hilderbrand’s knowledge of Nantucket shows and I felt like I was transported there the entire time.
Summer of ‘69 showed the power of family, the power of change and having/using your voice. But, even more, it showed the adage that as much as things change, it really stays the same. We struggle to know our parents, we struggle to find the balance of being a mother & wife with our own independence. The worries are the same. The lows, fears, and struggles are the same. The highs and love remain.
Truly a smart summer read that will have you laughing, shaking your head, at times wanting to be part of this crazy Levin family … and most definitely wishing you too had a beach house on Nantucket!!