I loved Summerland. Here’s why.
Sense of place. The setting is Nantucket, where the author, Elin Hilderbrand, has lived since 1984, and she knows the island well. From the very first page, you’ll see it, smell it, hear it.
Immediacy. The plot centers on the tight-knit island community, so idyllic, yet vulnerable. As soon as we’ve fallen in love with the place (“Absolutely have to go there …”), we learn of a tragic automobile accident that occurs on the night of the high school graduation. The story that follows details the fallout of this accident.
Real characters. I could see them, feel for and with them, and appreciate their flaws as some of my own.
Huge range of emotions. Given the subject matter, you understand why this is so. Aside from the opening and closing pages, the book is written in the third person, with alternating chapters designated for each of the major characters. This does entail a certain amount of shifting gears on our part, but Hilderbrand is a skilled enough writer to make it work.
That said, if you prefer books that offer an in-depth emotional experience through a single point of view, you’ll be frustrated. Likewise, if you don’t like flashbacks. The story goes back and forth in time as it elaborates on each character in detail. I have to confess that I grew impatient at times, wanting to know what was happening in the here and now, rather than wading through backstories of less pivotal characters. That said, Hilderbrand writes beautifully. Her prose is smooth and revealing, consistent (as is the title) with the feel of Nantucket.
This isn’t a light book. It’s about teenage angst, parental angst, marital angst. The setting is magical, but the problems are real. And yet the outcome is uplifting. Hang onto it!