Book Title and Author: Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Publication Date and Publisher: June 18, 2019 by Little, Brown, and Company
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 432 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: May 27, 2019 (papercopy from the publisher)
Follow New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand back in time and join a Nantucket family as they experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a 1960s summer.
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.
It’s not officially summer for me until I’ve read an Elin Hilderbrand book by the pool or sitting on the beach so luckily for me, I was able to read this one Memorial Day weekend, poolside, with a fruity beverage in hand. Hilderbrand’s first historical novel was everything that I’ve come to expect from the queen of the summer novel and more.
In classic Hilderbrand style, Summer of ’69 revolves around the lives of several members of the Foley-Levin family and of course, Nantucket is the main setting although Martha’s Vineyard gets some love in this book too. This is a summer of dramatic changes for the family as Tiger, 19, has just been drafted for Vietnam. His mother Kate is obviously overcome with worry and grief.
Kate’s daughters, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Jesse, who just turned 13 (and is the daughter of her second husband David) also face their own considerable life changes this summer as each of their stories intertwine in some way. It’s through these sister’s voices, Kate’s, and letters exchanged by Tiger and Jesse this story is told. Every character is so real, wholly persuasive, and each of their issues becomes ones I cared about no matter how big or small.
Blair is pregnant with twins and miserable as she smokes cigarettes and drinks to get rid of morning sickness (really how are any of us ’70s babies alive?). Her husband Angus is a brilliant astrophysicist working 24/7 on the Apollo 11 moon landing, leaving her lonely and alone.
Kirby, the family rebel known for her political protesting, forgoes the summer stay on Nantucket for a job at a hotel on Martha’s Vineyard where she meets the rich and famous, people like Teddy Kennedy, who crashes his car off Chappaquiddick Island that fateful summer. Then her romantic troubles keep causing her difficulties.
Jesse is closest to Tiger and besides wanting to grow up faster, she most looks forward to his letters from Vietnam. He’s the one she shares her secrets with as she finds first love over the summer. Yet, she’s not completely happy, thanks to Exalta, her tough as nails grandmother who casts a judgemental gaze on everything and everyone.
Kate is the voice I most identified with: the mother, the one worried her son wouldn’t come back from war while also worried about her other kids. She’s a compelling character who showed the realism of being a mom―strength and weakness but always love for her children.
Hilderbrand has woven together the historical moments from that summer using her trademark style that has never let me down as a reader (make sure you read the author’s notes about the inspiration for the story!), and it’s just a perfect read.
Summer of ’69 is nostalgic, poignant, retrospective, and packed with details that made the novel feel vivid and alive for me, a time I’ve heard, watched movies, and read about but was almost a decade before I was born! I laughed and oh, did I cry while reading this. It’s out on 6/18th and if you haven’t already pre-ordered it, then you need to. It’s the definitive summer of 2019 read!
**Thank you Little, Brown, and Company for the gifted copy. All opinions are my own.**