Review: ‘Summerland: A Novel’ by Elin Hilderbrand

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Elin Hilderbrand is one of my favorite authors, especially during the summer. Her books are written for leisurely reading on a beach, by the pool or for those lazy hot summer days.

When her most recent book, Summerland: A Novel (aff link), was released on June 26, I had it loaded onto my Kindle as soon as I could. Actually, I pre-ordered it back in early May so I wouldn’t forget.

I’ve read most of Elin Hilderbrand’s books and have enjoyed all. So even before I began reading ‘Summerland’ I already had high expectations. As you’ll read, this novel met my expectations perfectly.

The Plot

The book revolves around a car accident involving 4 teenagers on the island of Nantucket. The teens were celebrating high school graduation at a beach party. Penny, the driver of the car, is furious about something (you don’t find out until later) and in her anger she drives out of control, eventually crashing the car. Penny is killed instantly.

The other three survive. Penny’s brother, Hobby, falls into a coma for several days after the accident and suffers from many broken bones. Jake, Penny’s boyfriend, walks away uninjured, as does Demeter, who is the outsider of the group (i.e. not very popular).

The novel revolves around the aftermath of the car accident. It follows the main characters, and their families, as they try to come to terms with what happened. But even the family members have their own drama. There are several little sub-plots going on that come together at the end.

If I go much further I’ll risk spoiling the book for you. I’m just giving the very basics here.

My Review

I’ll start off by saying I think this is one of Hilderbrand’s best books. I say this, in part, because the characters are very fleshed out with a lot of depth. The plot seems a little dizzying at first. There’s a lot going on.

It took me a while to get into the novel. But the payoff is great, Hilderbrand does an excellent job “threading the needle” at the end – meaning it all comes together in a satisfying way. I’m a stickler for a satisfying ending, this one didn’t disappoint me.

Like the plot, I also found the beginning of the novel difficult to get into because there are so many characters. It was hard for me to keep them straight. It probably took a few chapters for me to feel comfortable knowing who was who and who did what.

Further, the characters are each unique. They aren’t just variations of one character. They each have their own personality. I didn’t feel like Hilderbrand took a stock character from a how-to-write-a-novel book and used that for a template. I couldn’t find any character cliche`s. They all felt original.

Hilderbrand did a great job with Penny’s character. She is never alive in the novel. We learn about her through other characters, and even then, she feels real.

The most unique part of the novel is that the island of Nantucket is also a character. There aren’t a lot of chapters with Nantucket as a character, but when there are, they offer a sweeping view of the island. It doesn’t just talk about the main characters, rather, it gives you a general feel for the “mood” on the island. We find out what other people are thinking. We find out how the rest of the island is reacting to Penny’s death and the surrounding events.

The narrative style is that each chapter is the viewpoint (in third-person) of one character. I generally don’t like this style, but it worked well here. I liked seeing multiple character viewpoints for a particular event in the book. It adds to the character’s depth.

I did find the dialogue to be somewhat stilted among the teenagers. The constant use of the word “man” (as in, “I’m having a crappy day, man.”) became annoying by the end. It seemed forced. I’m going to be forgiving here because the characters weren’t defined by there dialogue alone.

As the novel came to an end, the narrative became long and, in my opinion, a bit too philosophical. This slowed the reading down greatly. As I said, the ending was satisfying, but I could have done without it being drawn out so much.

My Verdict

Yes, I recommend this novel! It’s a great summer read. While Elin Hilderbrand’s novels are geared more towards a female audience, I still enjoy her work without feeling like my masculinity is going to get flushed down the toilet. If you’re a guy reading this review, I urge you to read a few Hilderbrand novels. You just might be surprised.

Disclaimer: I did not receive a free/discounted copy of this novel, nor was I compensated in any way for a favorable review. I have no connection to the publisher or author. This review reflects my own unbiased opinion. The link to the novel is an affiliate link, meaning I get a little money (pocket change) if you buy this book after clicking on it.


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