Back in the Summer of ‘69 . . . Times Are Changin’

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This photo shows the cover of Summer of ‘69 by Elin Hilderbrand.

Kathryn Haig, Staff Writer

“[…] maybe, just maybe, this summer will end up being one that people write songs about” (Hilderbrand 371).

When life gets turned upside down, how do you keep from falling apart?  It’s 1969, the most tumultuous year of the twentieth century, and the dysfunctional Levin family is hanging on for dear life.  Elin Hilderbrand’s Summer of ‘69, a moving historical fiction novel, follows mother Kate and sisters Blair, Kirby, and Jessie as they encounter the struggles of war, marriage, civil rights, and teenage life.  On Nantucket, Kate is a mother driven to alcohol by the departure of her only son, Tiger, to fight in the Vietnam War and the weight of a long-kept secret.  In Boston, Blair, an intelligent young woman, finds herself constrained by marriage to a NASA genius and an arduous pregnancy.  In search of a fresh start, civil rights activist Kirby finds love and complications on Martha’s Vineyard.  Alone on Nantucket with her unraveling mother and thorny grandmother, thirteen year old Jessie’s beloved family vacation has been violently interrupted by war and the mistakes of the past.  Forced to manage unattended as a result, Jessie finds herself fighting her own war with the unfamiliarities of teenage life and first love.  Wonderfully well-written, Hilderbrand succeeds in guiding her readers down a lovingly recreated memory lane alongside entirely magnetic characters.  According to Kim from Goodreads, “This book was so enjoyable to read, and I was literally swept up into [the characters’] lives. I was so invested in each character. The author has created such relatable, well developed characters, I felt I was part of their lives” (Goodreads).

Known for The Perfect Couple, Winter in Paradise, and more, Elin Hilderbrand has written over twenty novels while raising three children on Nantucket Island.  According to Susannah Calahan of the New York Post, Hilderbarand holds the title of the “queen of summer” ; with exquisite descriptions of pristine beaches and cobblestone streets, Hilderbrand’s novels are perfect for a relaxing day at the beach.  According to Vivian Payton, “I have never read an uninteresting Elin Hilderbrand novel; they are all phenomenal and simply unputdownable. I love how she ties up all the loose ends so effortlessly […] She keeps you riveted and wanting to turn the pages” (Book Reporter).  With her innate knowledge of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Hilderbrand’s intriguing novels never disappoint.

Born during the summer of 1969 herself, Hilderbrand hoped to recapture the turmoil of the time.  In the midst of the controversial Vietnam War, civil rights activism, the women’s liberation movement, and Woodstock, Hilderbrand and her twin were born the week of the Apollo 11 launch.  Several days later was the Chappaquiddick incident on Martha Vineyard.

Hilderbrand’s incorporation of historical events and their impacts provides for a stunning tale of upheaval.  The Levins are the embodiment of a 1969 family: a son at war and conflicting generational beliefs.  Often divided and living in fear of loss, families such as the Levins struggled to endure the shifting times.  Summer of ‘69 weaves a story of the strength, courage, and hope required to survive during a period of such significant change.

A tribute to veterans in particular, Summer of ‘69 illustrates the terrifying lives led by the soldiers of the Vietnam War, most of whom were simply boys in uniforms.  Forced into war by the draft and told to grow up too soon, these boys were driven by survival instincts, fear, and a sense of duty.  With their lives often cut far too short, Hilderbrand honors the fallen in her poignant novel, demonstrating the pain invoked by loss all too well.  Summer of ‘69 is a celebration of the bond between these boys and their fellow soldiers, as well as the connection they shared with the family they left behind.

Summer of ‘69 also pays homage to the bonds within a dysfunctional family.  Following the tragic yet questionable death of her husband and the father of Blair, Kirby, and Tiger, Kate remarries and has a third daughter, Jessie.  Thirteen years later, with troubled siblings, marital issues, secrets, and a son at war, the Levins are crumbling, united only in their love and fear for Tiger.  Throughout the novel, Hilderbrand weaves a heart-warming tale of the importance of family, forgiveness, and honesty.

Hilderbrand’s Summer of ‘69 touches upon the topic of maturity as well, emphasizing the need for children to “grow up” and accept the burdens which accompany doing so.  Whether it’s Jessie coming into her own as a teenager, Blair learning to settle down, Kirby realizing the responsibility which comes with independence, or Tiger experiencing the cost of war, the Levin siblings discover both the freedom and obligations which characterize adulthood.

Deserving of five out of five stars, Summer of ‘69 is perfect for history buffs, romantics, and music lovers.  Hilderbrand’s original novel incorporates historical events and the twists and turns of love, as well as 60’s music with a new song introducing each chapter, to create a remarkably mesmerizing plot.  Combining drama, humor, and convoluted secrets, Summer of ‘69 is a superb, unforgettable must-read teeming with laughter, tears, and inspiring advice.