Originally published August 2019
Tonight’s hot take: Until now, I have never read an Elin Hilderbrand novel.
I don’t know why — I have always seen them in the bookstore and thought they looked good. But for whatever reason, I never picked them up. And I am sorry about that, because, escapism!
Summer of ’69 served as my ticket to Nantucket this summer — a destination that I’ve been to before and long to see again. I’ve been to Cape Cod a handful of times, the most recent about five years ago. My family and I spent a day bicycling Nantucket and like anywhere you go on the Cape, was enamored with the cedar shingles and salt air and casual vibe that comes with living by a big ‘ol ocean.
So Hilderbrand’s novel was a welcome trip back in time in more than one way. I am in love with the idea of a summer home where you can actually spend the summer. With its own bakery with a special kind of bread, and the restaurants you frequent from year to year and tennis lessons and the beach and first loves and broken hearts and …. ah, summer.
The nice part of this being my first Hilderbrand novel? I have no complaints. I have no idea if it is too formulaic. I don’t know if she’s written anything better. I just know this is a sweet story about coming of age and coming to terms in a tumultuous time, the summer of 1969. Kate Foley Levin and her four children, Blair, Kirby, Tiger and Jessie, each have challenges to overcome — Tiger’s deployment to Vietnam; Kate’s constant anxiety over Tiger’s wellbeing and the state of her marriage; Blair’s pregnancy and ditto on the marriage front; Kirby’s attraction to a man of color and frustration with her roommate’s abusive boyfriend; and Jessie’s everything.
Jessie has just turned 13. She misses Tiger. She hates her mom’s drinking. The tennis coach at the club felt her up. Her friends have passed on their passion for shoplifting. She thinks her grandmother may be an anti-Semite. She’s crushing on the caretaker’s grandson. It’s enough to make a grown adult’s head spin, let alone someone still in 7th grade.
With all that going on, readers don’t have any problem remaining engrossed in this story. It’s fast-paced and moves between characters with a cadence that keeps you on your toes, but no so much that you’re left scratching your head. Perfect for a long weekend, the beach, a porch swing. It’s not too difficult to see the plot twists coming, but sometimes not having to think too hard allows you to really enjoy the read.
If anyone has a rec for another Hilderbrand book — another favorite, perhaps — let me know. I’d love to add a few more to my list!