On June 17, high school graduation night on Nantucket Island, Jake Randolf, Demeter Castle, and Hobby and Penny Alistair drove off from a beach party in the early hours of the morning after three of them had been drinking heavily. Penny was sober and at the wheel. She was upset because of a secret she had learned at the party. Penny was crying, driving at high speed, and not wearing a seat belt as her twin brother Hobby. At the end of a road before the beach, Penny accelerated and the car took flight. Upon landing she was killed and Hobby was left in comma. Jake and Demeter were physically unscathed.
As the summer unfolded, Demeter--who was severely overweight, socially ostracized and was known for her drinking-- started drinking more often and stealing liquor from the houses she worked at…Until her employer received a complaint and she was exposed to her parents as an alcoholic and a thief.
Jake’s father decided to uproot the family to Perth, Australia—the place Jake’s mother was from originally—for a year. One of the reasons was to allow Jake to heal away from the place of the accident. Another reason was because Ava, Jake’s mother, had been insisting for years on going back. Whatever the reason, the family moved and only Ava was happy, so they had to make drastic decisions for the good of the family.
Hobby woke up from a comma as a changed person. Before the accident he had been an all-star athlete in several sports, but after the accident he realized he no longer was going to play at the same level again. He also had to cope with the death of his twin sister and his and his mother’s grief.
I liked Summerland very much. It is a book about tragedy, grief and loss, but it’s also about teen alcoholism, marital betrayal, depression, teen suicide, the quality of relationships teenagers should or shouldn’t have with their parents, enduring love and hope above all else.
I read Summerland very slowly because of its difficult topics; grief, loss, and depression are ever present in the story and at the end there are no real answers except saying that tragedies happen and fortunately people sometimes emerge stronger after the loss. I liked that message because the book in the end was hopeful but very realistic and dark at the same time.
Summerland is the fifth book I’ve read penned by Elin Hilderbrand, and it was now that I began to notice patterns in her novels. They’re all based in Nantucket or Tuckernuck (as is the case in The Island); someone always dies and there are profound ramifications from that death, there’s always someone who cooks heavenly, there are illicit love affairs or rekindled love, and always at the end there’s hope. I love that!
In summary, Summerland is darker in tone than other Hilderbrand’s novels I have read, but it’s ultimately how the survivors cope and emerge from the crisis that makes this novel another winner for the author.