No matter where you go in the world, you cannot run away from the people that are close to your heart and the secrets that they keep for you. In Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Girls, we are shown just that with the reunion of three half-sisters Dora, Carson and Harper, at the request of their grandmother, Mamaw, for her eightieth birthday. All three girls travel to Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, to their beloved Sea Breeze, in search of a glimpse into the carefree summers of their youth, and rediscover the bonds they once shared with each other.
Dora is a stay-at-home mom, caring for her autistic son, Nate, and facing the start of a divorce from her husband, who claims that she didn’t pay enough attention to him, which was true. She is obsessed with caring for Nate, who is a smart child, but at the same time isn’t comfortable in group settings and, heartbreaking to Dora, can’t stand to be touched. Dora lives in South Carolina, under an hour away from Mamaw, and therefore is the only one of the granddaughters that still visits every summer. She brings Nate to Sullivan’s Island even though the invitation specified that it was a girls’ only weekend, because he husband refused to spend any time with him. Dora is depressed over the way that her life has turned out and becomes jealous when she sees her son bonding with Carson.
Carson is a photographer living in California who recently lost her job due to the cancelation of the show that she was working on, and is in need of a change of scenery. Unlike her sisters, Carson grew up a bit differently. Her mother died in a fire when she was little, which led to her spending a few years with Mamaw at Sea Breeze (the name for Mamaw’s house on Sullivan’s Island) before her father (their father) Parker, came back to claim her and they moved to California. Carson loves the ocean, and takes out her surfboard whenever she has a chance, until a close encounter with a shark frightens her and she retreats to the bay. There is a good thing that comes out of the shark though; Carson makes a new friend, a dolphin, whom she names Delphine – which is how she and Nate start to connect a little: the dolphin fascinated him. Carson starts dating Blake, a marine biologist who works with dolphins, and struggles with the possibility that, like her father, she too may have an addiction to alcohol.
Harper lives in New York with her mother, working at a major trade publisher as her mother’s assistant, describing their work relationship as Andy Sachs and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. Harper’s mother was displeased that she had decided to go to Sullivan’s Island, making it clear that she was only to be gone for one weekend. After a phone call between the two, Harper decides to quit her job – further angering her mother – and stay for the duration of the summer.
From the beginning, Mamaw seems like she is hiding something, that this visit with her granddaughters is more than what it seems. She unearths family secrets – mainly of Parker – that had long been buried, which threaten to pull them even further apart than they already had become…but will they be able to resurrect their strong bonds in order to move forward together?
The Summer Girls is a great novel for the end of the summer season, because throughout it, you get a sense that something is fleeting, life as each of these characters knows it is fleeting, and I feel like that sense that something is fleeting is felt around this time of the year. The carefree days of summer are fading and the winter is on the horizon, moving towards us faster than we would like. Monroe brings us back to the beginning of the summer season, where the hopes and anticipation still exist, and, as this is the first book in a trilogy that is set to revolve around these characters, it is only the beginning.