Published by Little, Brown and Company on June 18, 2019
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Bantering Books Rating:
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 with their grandmother in 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.
Bantering Books Review
I think I have a like-hate relationship with Elin Hilderbrand’s novels.
To put it bluntly – I like Hilderbrand’s stories. But I don’t like Hilderbrand’s writing.
A year ago, I read her Winter Street series and found the entire experience to be similar to that of watching a B movie – not that great, not totally satisfying, but just engaging enough to lead me to read all four books in the series.
I cut Hilderbrand some slack, however, as I have often found that a holiday series is not necessarily an accurate depiction of an author’s true writing chops. I thought it best to give one of her summery novels a try before forming a definitive opinion about her work, seeing as those seem to be what her devoted readers love best.
And it was with all this in mind, that I approached Summer of ’69. I happily selected it as my next Hilderbrand novel, both mildly excited and optimistically hopeful that I would find it to be a substantially better read than the Winter Street series. Alas . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.
The novel follows the members of the Levin family, as they individually prepare for what is for them, a different type of summer. The year is 1969, one of the most politically charged, chaotic years in the history of the United States. The Levin children typically look forward to spending the summer together in Nantucket, living in their grandmother’s historic home. But their lives are in as much a state of upheaval as is the nation.
In Boston is Blair, the eldest sister, pregnant with twins and unable to travel to Nantucket. Kirby, the middle sister and civil rights activist, accepts a summer job in Martha’s Vineyard to distance herself from the family. The only son, Tiger, is a soldier, away fighting in the Vietnam War. And thirteen-year-old Jessie is left facing a dismal summer alone in the house with her set-in-her-ways grandmother, Exalta, and anxious mother, Kate.
No. Life is certainly not the same for the Levins – and little do they know the extent it will continue to change over the course of the summer of 1969.
To swing back around to the opening line of my review, I will begin by saying that overall, I like Summer of ’69. Really. Truly. The story is compelling from the start. The characters are appealing. The historical backdrop of 1969 is intriguing and adds an extra layer of interest to the narrative.
The novel is just so simplistic. So superficial. So light, and by this, I mean, without any sort of depth or weight to it. In no way does Hilderbrand dig deeply into the story – the narrative, the characters, the historical setting, and the political climate are all flat and touched only on the surface.
History lovers – know that Summer of ‘69 is also, at best, lite historical fiction. At its core, the novel is more of a family drama, and the story is not at all beholden to the year 1969. Plus, it’s almost as if Hilderbrand attempts to up the historical authenticity factor by tossing into the narrative every single bit of research she uncovered, along with every single notable public event of 1969. The history feels forced and manipulated, rather than naturally threaded into the drama.
And Hilderbrand’s writing is just . . . (gulp) . . . cringeworthy. (Excuse me while I duck and cover. Swinging baseball bats are incoming.) It’s nails-on-chalkboard awful. Her prose is pedestrian and clunky; her sentences are elementary and almost child-like in nature. She tells everything and shows the reader nothing.
My biggest pet peeve? She uses the exclamation point almost as often as she uses the period.
It’s mind-boggling! It must be her favorite form of punctuation! Please stop! Oh, how I wish she instead loved the period! Or the question mark! Heck, I would even settle for a semicolon now and then!
(See what I did there?)
All snarky criticism aside, Summer of ‘69 is enjoyable and makes for a great beach read. But if you’re looking for anything more than that, I recommend you look elsewhere.
And don’t get me wrong. I still see many, many Hilderbrand novels in my future.
Some things in life are so good . . . because they are so bad.