I know most people are familiar with Kristin Hannah because they've read one of her two most famous books, The Nightingale or The Great Alone. My first Kristin Hannah book was Summer Island, which was loaned to me by a friend.
The story is set in the Pacific Northwest, where Hannah currently lives, so the descriptions are very vivid.
The first person we meet is Nora Bridge. She's a nationally known and beloved advice columnist (like a Dear Abby). She's on top of the world until photos are released of her having an affair. Her pious image is shattered and her fans turn on her.
In that aftermath, she drinks a bit too much and crashes her car. That results in an injury, and to ensure the paparazzi don't have a field day with that information, she retreats up to her family's old home on Summer Island. Since she's using crutches, she can't really get around by herself, leaving her to call upon one of her two estranged daughters.
It's her younger daughter, Ruby, who answers the call and comes to her rescue. Their relationships is incredibly strained, which of course makes for great tension in the story.
When Ruby returns, the memories of years past flood back to her. On page 87, "As she stood beneath the bloated gray sky, smelling the moist, pine-scented air, she realized that memories were more than misty recollections. They stayed rooted in the soil in which they'd grown. There were places up north, in the San Juan Island archipelago, where bits and pieces of Ruby's life had been left scattered about like seashells on the shore. Somewhere up there sat the shadow of a thin, bold-eyed girl on a pebbly beach, tearing the petals off a daisy chanting He loves me; he loves me not. She knew that if she looked hard enough, she would be able to find the invisible trail she'd left behind, the pieces of her that led from the present back to the past."
Once back on Summer Island, Ruby is reunited with her childhood sweetheart, Dean. Dean is also in town for an intense reason, his older brother Eric is dying of cancer. They begin to get to know each other again; their relationship providing levity during a really challenging time for both of them.
Ultimately, this is a story about forgiveness. It's about looking back on childhood pain with the wisdom and experience of adulthood, to reframe the narrative you've written for yourself.
Ruby and Nora really work through the trauma of the earliest years of their relationship. In one scene, Nora offers to cut Ruby's hair, which she used to do when she was a child. On page 278, "Ruby hadn't remembered until that moment, but suddenly it came rushing back. Sunday evenings in the kitchen, a dishrag pinned around her beck with a clothespin, the soothing clip-clip-clip of the scissors, Dad's steady turning of the newspaper pages in the living room. Ruby stood there a moment, strangely uncertain of what to do. She had a nagging sense that if she said the right thing now - in this heartbeat of time which felt steeped in sudden possibility - she could change things. She felt vulnerable suddenly, a child wearing her emotions like a kindergarten name tag."
While this book isn't uplifting, I did really enjoy it and I found the ending very satisfying. It's 400 pages, so it's a bit of commitment, but if you stick with it, I think you'll agree the ending is rewarding.
I could easily see this book being adapted into a TV series or movie. It feels like something that would land on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel.
I've been reading up a storm the past few weeks and I'm excited to share more book reviews with you. Coming up:
- Every Summer After by Carley Fortune
- It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
- The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave