Summer of Salt
By Katrina Leno
Published June 5, 2018 by Harper Teen
“On the island of By-the-Sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.
The first was obvious. It came crashing ashore in the blue waves; it sat heavy and thick in our hair and our clothes; it stained our bedsheets and made our pillows damp.
The second–the scent of magic–was harder to pin down.”
Summer of Salt is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It has lots of elements I love: magical realism, an island settings (I have a thing for books set on islands), and a quirky, sort of Wes Anderson-esque vibe. This book is not going to be for everyone, but it’s the sort of book I want to press into people’s hands with a plea to read it.
Georgina Fernweh lives on an unusual island called By-the-Sea. The Fernweh family runs an inn that’s very busy in the summer, when a group of bird enthusiasts descend upon the island hoping to see Annabella’s Woodpecker, a very rare bird that only appears in this particular place and only during summer. Georgina and her twin sister Mary grew up on the island, and although they’re going to be leaving for college at the end of the summer, they’ve never been off the island. Oh, and Annabella may be 300 years old and a distant great-aunt of the sisters (said great-aunt disappeared and the family was convinced that she turned into a bird).
The Fernwehs are an interesting family. Most of the women in the family have magical gifts, and they always show up before they turn 18. Mary has been able to float in the air since she was an infant, and their mother can create potions. But Georgina has shown no sign of a magical gift, and as she nears her 18th birthday, she’s wondering if she’ll be one of the few Fernweh woman without a gift.
The birdheads, as the islanders call them, are a funny bunch, all completely obsessed with Annabella. Most of them are repeat visitors, but this year, a grad student and his younger sister come to stay, and Georgina finds herself attracted to the sister, Prue.
The tone changes halfway through the book, and after a tragic event, the islanders and the birdheads start to turn against the Fernweh family. The townspeople and the birdheads seem fine with the slightly unusual family when everything is going fine, but when things go wrong, everyone is quick to turn on them and blame them. The fraught atmosphere is heightened by terrible weather that causes massive flooding on the island.
I love that there’s no issue with Georgina being gay. She’s been out for several years, and it’s a non-issue. The only problem is that on such a small island, her dating pool is very limited. The arrival of Prue gives her a romantic interest, and their attraction is a slow burn. The romance isn’t a major focus of the book, since there’s a lot of other drama going on, but it’s very sweet.
This book is equal parts beautiful and devastating. Katrina Leno’s writing is lovely (“She was tied to the water, my sister. Moods like tides, temper like a hungry shark.” is one particularly evocative passage.) I really loved this book, and I’m excited to read Leno’s other books.
I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.