When they were girls, Kate, Ashley and Caroline McKenna made headlines with their father Duncan when they sailed around the world and won a prestigious race. The eight years since have been less successful for the McKenna family. Duncan is an alcoholic who lost the family boat. The youngest daughter, Caroline, is a wild child, while the middle one, Ashley, won’t go anywhere near the water. The eldest is Kate, who struggles to pick up after her father and siblings and keep the family together.
Then Tyler Jamison arrives in their hometown of Castleton, Washington, and threatens to bring their problems to the surface. A world-famous reporter, Tyler wants to tell the story of their race, something the sisters cannot allow. There are secrets about the race that no one knows about, ones that go to the root of their problems to this day. But Tyler means to uncover one of those secrets, because he has secrets of his own. His brother and sister-in-law adopted a child illegally, and Tyler believes one of the McKenna sisters is the girl’s mother. His loyalty to his brother means he has to learn the truth, even if he knows it might tear them apart.
Summer Secrets is a beautifully written and sensitively told tale about the complex bonds between the members of one family. Freethy does a strong job capturing the dynamic of the McKennas. Each of the sisters fulfills a specific role in the family – based on how they at at each other and how they believe they’re looked at by others – and all three sisters has a storyline that slowly allows them to break out of their stifling roles. Freethy’s characters are all complicated people. Though Ashley’s character is somewhat less developed than her sisters, Duncan, and Tyler, these other characters are well-drawn and their relationships are nicely portrayed.
The story also works well as a mystery; the likely identity of the mother keeps changing and I didn’t get it right in the end. The author’s style is more grounded than much women’s fiction, so even while the McKennas have more drama in their lives than most families, the story comes across as much less melodramatic than most family dramas. Much as I admired Summer Secrets, though, it’s on the slow side, a bit long, and slightly over-stuffed with events that don’t add much to the narrative flow. As a result, I grew restless waiting for secrets and truths to be revealed. The downside of having so many storylines and characters is a lack of hints and clues to sustain interest through character-heavy passages.
This is one of the reasons Tyler didn’t really work for me. I try not to judge a character’s actions as long as I understand why he’s doing what he does, but in this instance, even though I understood why Tyler did what he did, I still didn’t like him. His investigation dragged on and on and the sisters, particularly Kate, are subject to too much turmoil as a result. Eventually I wished he would just go away and leave them alone.
Even so, Summer Secrets is a solid, character-based family drama. While it did test my interest at times, anyone who enjoys this type of women’s fiction should find it an engaging read.