Summer of ’69

Written by Elin Hilderbrand
Review by Arleigh Ordoyne

Set on the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, this debut historical novel from “summer read” veteran Hilderbrand is a family saga that captures a glimpse of the 20th century’s most tumultuous decade. Kate, her four children, and extended family members each have their own worries: Blair is pregnant with twins while her absent husband is working on the Apollo 11 mission; Kirby is searching for herself—stuck between the political and social issues of the day and her strait-laced, upper-class background; Tiger, of his own volition, is fighting in Vietnam while his family frets over his safety; Jessie is coming of age during a summer when it seems everything is going wrong; Kate is harboring a secret that has haunted her for years and could tear the family apart.

“The times they are a-changing,” is an apt summation of the events of this story. Character dynamics and place details dominate the narrative. It touches on racial issues, feminism, hippie/commune lifestyles, anti-Semitism, abuse, suicide, revolution, politics, and war—but only through the limited views of a handful of privileged characters. As such, it is difficult to relate to any of the various protagonists and has a forced agenda feel at times. As a beach read, it certainly delivers. It is nicely paced and includes an impressive description of 1960s upper-class island lifestyles. It works well as a getaway book for the average reader—dramatic and engaging. Those looking for more depth, particularly serious historical fiction enthusiasts, may find it lacking a multi-layered, engrossing element many period novels offer.