SUMMER OF ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Historical Fiction

I used to mainly read fantasy and science fiction, but now that I am venturing out and reading other genres (such as historical fiction) I am seeing that I have been missing out from a whole scope of realistic, human emotion contained within other types of stories. This book by Elin Hilderbrand, described as the perfect beach read, is one of those stories that made me feel, cry, and fall in love with these characters, and it was all set in our own real world in the summer of 1969, when the United States of America was in a state of great political and social upheaval. I liked the historical aspect of this book, but what really made me keep flipping the pages at an accelerated speed was the characters.

I empathized with Jessie, the thirteen-year old half-jewish girl who is finding out who she really is and discovering her own strength and sense of identity. I admired Kirby, Jessie’s half-sister, the resolutely rebellious yet grounded twenty-one year old who is more than willing to experience with breaking social stereotypes. I laughed and commiserated over Blair, Kirby’s heavily pregnant sister whose marriage was breaking down, and I was in awe of Kate, the mother of all these girls, and of her imperfect yet honest resilience at the fact that her son had just been shipped off to Vietnam.

This book is not short of drama, and I think every kind of relationship dysfunction is touched upon throughout the narrative. There is infidelity, depression, sexual and physical abuse, lies, secrets, even suicide, and yet through all this, the characters stand strong because of their family nucleus. Each of them is their own person, but they don’t forget that they are held together by their shared appreciation of each other. I found it very compelling and satisfying that family was the glue that held this story together. I am a fan of family stories because they are so relatable, and this book exemplifies this. Everyone’s family is messed up in one way or another.

I agree that this is a great beach read. I read it all in just a couple of days. It is a light and breezy novel but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of depth, quite the contrary in fact. Throughout the whole narrative all of the characters grow and become more themselves as they discover who they truly are, while all along, the suspense and the threat of the Vietnam war looms, and never really goes away, not even when the book ends. It is a satisfying story arc and I would definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction and contemporary fiction alike. 


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