The Summer of ‘69: Tumult, Family, and Warm Summer Days

“Summer of ‘69,” published in 2019, is just one of many of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels set on the idyllic island of Nantucket. This summer destination has become Hilderbrand’s signature, with many of her novels connecting fictional characters within the island community. As Hamilton and Colgate slowly start to defrost, Hilderbrand’s books bring to mind the warm days of summers past and yet to come.

The summer of 1969 was one of the most tumultuous in American history. The moon landing, Ted Kennedy’s scandal at Chappaquiddick and the Vietnam War infiltrated all aspects of American life, especially for the Levin family, who find themselves at the center of it all. The novel follows the family through the summer as they deal with the drama and secrets of their personal lives. The oldest daughter Blair is stuck at home in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Meanwhile, middle daughter Kirby leaves the traditions of her family behind to take a job on Martha’s Vineyard for the summer, hoping to escape her past and carve out her own place in the world. Thirteen-year-old Jessie faces the trials of growing up, secluded with only her out-of-touch grandmother and her mother, who is constantly worrying about Jessie’s brother, Tiger, who is fighting in the war overseas.

Hilderbrand uses this island community and the story of this one family in particular as a backdrop for the politics and history of the summer of 1969. As a lover of history, I was especially drawn to the ways in which she incorporated almost every event that occurred during this time. Even in subtle ways, such as the mention of the Woodstock music festival, the reader was reminded of the period in which the book was set without making them feel as though events were being brought up simply for the sake of being mentioned. The reader becomes transported to the world of the late 1960s and how America was quickly starting to change in more ways than one, while the characters of the story learn how to cope with this change – although sometimes a bit reluctantly.

One of my favorite aspects of Hilderbrand’s writing style is the way she focuses on different points of view throughout the novel, slowly revealing the secrets of the characters as the story progresses. This is a tactic that she uses throughout many of her books, and it allows the reader to question where the story will go. When reading Hilderbrand’s novels, I always find myself theorizing about how the plot will develop, and I am often surprised by how the author manages to wrap up her stories by the end.

As a Nantucket local, Hilderbrand brings in a lot of the unique characteristics of the island, which further brings all of her stories to life. For people who have visited the island, it is easy to picture her novels unfolding. For those who have not had the opportunity to visit Nantucket, by the end of her books they almost feel like they have. Aside from the charms of these books that are unique to Nantucket, I find that Hilderbrand’s work is the perfect beach read, transporting me to a sunny beach escape even on the coldest of central New York days.

I have read a lot of Hilderbrand’s books and often find myself coming back to read more of her writing. However, I think that what makes “Summer of ‘69″ stand out to me the most is how it strays from her usual topics. A lot of her work includes themes of unsolved murders, lifelong friendship and not-so-fairytale weddings. While each of these books is incredibly well-written and hard to put down, it is easy to recognize how each of her books could have been influenced by the others. “Summer of ‘69″ is in a league of its own, exploring themes that Hilderbrand does not usually have in her repertoire, notably her venture into writing historical fiction.

One of my favorite parts of reading the book was my discovery that Hilderbrand also wrote a postscript novel set ten years after the events of the story, titled “Summer of ‘79.” I’m always sad to see a book end, so I loved being able to discover what the characters were doing ten years after the first novel ended. This companion book is much shorter, but gives an update on all of the major characters of the story, as well as some who we did not get the chance to know as well in the first book.

If you would like to read more books by Elin Hilderbrand, I suggest “The Hotel Nantucket,” “The Perfect Couple,” and “The Identicals.”

Rating: 4.5/5