Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Book Review: Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand

Pages: 432
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Beautiful Day, The Island
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century! It's 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother's historic home in downtown Nantucket: but this year Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Middle sister Kirby, a nursing student, is caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests, a passion which takes her to Martha's Vineyard with her best friend, Mary Jo Kopechne. Only son Tiger is an infantry soldier, recently deployed to Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Jessie suddenly feels like an only child, marooned in the house with her out-of-touch grandmother who is hiding some secrets of her own. As the summer heats up, Teddy Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, a man flies to the moon, and Jessie experiences some sinking and flying herself, as she grows into her own body and mind.  In her first "historical novel," rich with the details of an era that shaped both a country and an island thirty miles out to sea, Elin Hilderbrand once again proves her title as queen of the summer novel."

Exalta is the matriarch of the Foley family and every summer the family stays at their historic home on the beautiful island of Nantucket.  This year, Kate Levin, Exalta's daughter, is staying there with her youngest daughter, Jessie, but Kate is having a hard time coping. She should be happy to be on Nantucket for the summer, but there's a dark cloud following her everywhere she goes and that dark cloud is the Vietnam War. Kate's only son, Tiger, has been drafted and to cope with the horrors of the news regarding the war she takes to drinking.  Her oldest daughter, Blair, is spending the summer in the city with her new husband and trying to start a family.  Her middle daughter, Kirby, is a bit of a wild child and wants to spend the summer working on Martha's Vineyard.  So, that just leaves Kate, Exalta, Jessie, and the caretaker of the house for the entire summer.  Kate's second husband and Jessie's father, will visit on weekends, but his relationship with Katie is strained the more she takes to drinking to cope.  The summer of '69 tends to be a life-changing summer for the Foley-Levin family and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. If you like historical beach reads you won't be disappointed by Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69.

I love how Hilderbrand captures the dynamics of a large family, especially when it comes to the strong women in Summer of '69.  Kate is an complex character; my heart went out to her. While I didn't approve of how she was dealing with her depression, I can't imagine what she is going through with her son at Vietnam and having to listen to the news surrounding the horrific war.  Her preoccupation with this means she isn't spending enough quality time with her thirteen year old daughter, Jessie.  The relationship with her mother, Exalta, also proved to be stressful at times despite having the whole house to themselves.  Jessie is also a character that tugged on my heartstrings. Thirteen is such a tough age and Hilderbrand captured it so very well.  Jessie has been going through a lot especially when her mother turns the other way. She has a new found freedom, she makes mistakes, there's her first crush and testing her boundaries.....all while dealing with the fact that her older brother is at war.  I liked that Tiger often wrote to Jessie and Hilderbrand highlighted their relationship through those letters. 

Then there's Blair and Kirby in Summer of '69. I was really drawn to Kirby's storyline as she is a pretty fascinating feminist whereas Blair's plot really made me sad.  Blair should be a happy newlywed married to Angus, an astrophysicist. I mean what an exciting time to be married to someone who is working on things in space, especially since man first walked on the moon that summer.  But ultimately, Angus is a jerk.  I won't go into it too much, but it depressed me that Blair sort of adhered to his rules and essentially changed herself for him.  Their relationship is super complicated, especially since Angus is dealing with his own issues. On the other hand, Kirby's plot is a little more interesting in that she is hiding a secret. She got into some trouble (arrested protesting the war!) and is withholding some other secrets from her family.  She wants to make a fresh start in Martha's Vineyard and work at the hotel, which will definitely make for an interesting summer. But no matter how far she goes from home, she still needs to face her past.

Summer of '69 is so much more than just a fluffy beach read featuring family drama.  There's major issues that Hilderbrand tackles in this novel - everything from antisemitism, Teddy Kennedy's car wreck, mental health, feminism, racism, and so much more. I was rooting for the Foley-Levin family and desperately wanted Tiger to be ok.  Although some of Hildebrand's previous novels (Here's to Us) were a bit of a disappointment, I can confidently say Summer of '69 is not. It's beach reading at its finest! 


  1. Glad you enjoyed this! My library just acquired it, so I'm excited to get to it.

    1. I hope you get to read it soon. It won't disappoint! Thanks for visiting, Michele!


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