Hard to believe the Summer of ’69 is but a fifty-year-old good vibe in America’s collective memory. Man walked on the moon. Woodstock. Simpler times, right?
But there were also bad times. Take Vietnam–how did those parents deal with the not knowing? Without cellphones and computers, communication came via snail mail. And government officials coming to your door to notify you that your son had been killed or was MIA.
Even though I was just a kid then, I do remember seeing the draft numbers called up on the nightly news.
And in the years leading up to the Summer of Love, I remember the race riots in Baltimore. Atomic bomb drills in school. And the assassinations of JFK, MLK and Bobby K.
So when I saw Elin Hilderbrand’s newest book, SUMMER OF ’69, I knew I had to buy it.
Title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead:
Don’t let the cover of Hilderbrand’s book deceive you–it may look like a Beach Boys’ album cover. But beneath the hardback exterior, there’s enough unrest to satisfy the reader.
From the inside flap:
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 like so much else in America, nothing is the same:
Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel.
Middle sister Kirby, caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests and determined to be independent, takes a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard.
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 and her worried mother, each of them hiding a troubling secret.
As the summer heats up, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, man flies to the moon, and Jessie and her family experience their own dramatic upheavals along with the rest of the country.
Told through the viewpoint of each of the three sisters as well as their mother, Kate, Hilderbrand’s first foray into historical fiction is pitch perfect.
Often times, while reading stories told by multiple narrators, I will have a preference for one or two and sigh when I reach the end of a chapter, knowing I am going into parts of the story I am less vested in.
This is so NOT the case with SUMMER OF ’69. I loved each and every character’s story and felt so connected to each woman, both young and older, that I didn’t want this book to end. I also felt connected to son, Tiger, who made himself mostly known through the letters he sent from Vietnam.
And so, turning the page to get more pieces of this historical, familial puzzle delighted me time and time again.
One of Hilderbrand’s most impressive tricks was her ability to bring the era to life with such verisimilitude–she was only a newborn back then. Of course, when you’ve penned 23 novels since then, you’re doing something right, eh?
I loved how she called each new chapter after a song that was popular in ’69. The thematic connection of the song titles helped recreate both the times and the challenges of each family member.
There was one glaring error that jarred me out of the narrative: Kirby, the feminist and rebel of the family, says, All of that would sound like bragging, she fears, or worse, like she’s trying to appropriate African-Americans’ struggle for rights when anyone can see that she’s as white as Wonder Bread. (37)
Yeah, in the Summer of ’69, the term African-American was not used, and no one said a white person was trying to appropriate a damn thing. The latter is so fifty years in the future.
But that’s a minor glitch in an otherwise brilliant family drama set against the vibrant backdrop of a bygone era.
This is absolutely the best book I’ve read in years. I loved everything about it and am sorry to close it one final time.
You can bet I’ll be passing this one on to my sister to read–it’s the kind of book you’ll want to share and then discuss with others.
Wow! Just wow! I’m a new fan of Elin Hilderbrand.
Foxy Rating Scale: Five out of Five Foxes
Happy Reading. Peace out!