Summer Read: Elin Hilderbrand’s Summerland

Imagine sitting in the backseat of a car while your sister, furious for an unknown reason, speeds down a highway, hurtling to her death. Or imagine it’s your girlfriend doing the same thing. Imagine you survive, and you never knew what was going through her head when she died. It might have been something you did, or it might not have been – but you’ll never know.

Elin Hilderbrand’s latest novel, Summerland, takes place in Nantucket, but it doesn’t paint the island as the peaceful summer getaway that it is usually portrayed as. Instead, high school junior Penny, the designated driver to get her friends home from a graduation party, is killed when she crashes the car. The accident leaves her brother Hobby severely injured and in a coma, while her distant friend Demeter and boyfriend Jake emerge unscathed. The reason for Penny’s blind rage that caused the crash? The answer remains unknown – or so it seems.

That summer following the accident, everything is different as the island deals with the death of Penny, a beloved girl with a beautiful voice, practically the island’s golden girl. Overweight, socially inept Demeter Castle becomes an alcoholic, stealing alcohol from the families she babysits. Hobby, previously a fantastic ballplayer, is forced to accept that he will never play again because of injuries resulting from the crash. Jake Randolph is heartbroken over the loss of Penny, his longtime girlfriend and true love. As the island wrestles with the circumstances of Penny’s death, both Hobby and Jake have their own secrets that they think were the cause. As these secrets unfold and you begin to learn about everything that transpired the night of the accident and the weeks leading up to it, Hilderbrand takes you on an unexpected ride that you won’t forget.

Summerland is an engrossing read that will bring you right back to the beach. Those familiar with Nantucket will especially enjoy the multitude of references to the island they love. It is about relationships, the secrets people hold, and the idea that there is always more to people than you initially believe. Pick up Summerland and you’ll feel like you’re back at your summer house, spending the day on the beach.