It is always fascinating to read earlier works by authors who have now become well-known. Kristin Hannah’s magnificent novel THE NIGHTINGALE gave her well-deserved fame, but prior to writing that novel, she had already written 21 other novels, mostly set in Washington State, mostly involving family dynamics. Unlike her breakthrough novel THE NIGHTINGALE, none of these are historical novels, but involve the recent past.
So it is very interesting to see how she handles her material. The greatest strength of Ms. Hannah’s writing is her ability to let emotions unspool on the page. I have now read four of her early novels (HOME AGAIN, ON MYSTIC LAKE, ANGEL FALLS and now SUMMER ISLAND) and this facility with emotional writing is evident in all of them. Which means they are definitely a cut above the usual feel-good literature told (mainly) from a woman’s point of view.
However, there are flaws. In SUMMER ISLAND, there was never any doubt that the heroine, Ruby Bridge (a 30-something failed comedian with a chip on her shoulder) and the leading man, Dean Sloane, would finally get together. IMHO, the novel would have been so much better if that relationship had been developed and milked for tension. Like other readers, I thought it lacked depth and that everything happened too quickly.
Then there is the problem of the ending. As everyone knows, endings are hard to do well. This is particularly true if we have to have a happy ending. It is no surprise therefore that this novel ends with a wedding, but it would have been so much better if the text had been edited to remove clichés and banalities. Four stars.