Published by HarperTeen on June 5, 2018
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A magic passed down through generations . . .
Georgina Fernweh waits with growing impatience for the tingle of magic in her fingers—magic that has been passed down through every woman in her family. Her twin sister, Mary, already shows an ability to defy gravity. But with their eighteenth birthday looming at the end of this summer, Georgina fears her gift will never come.
An island where strange things happen . . .
No one on the island of By-the-Sea would ever call the Fernwehs what they really are, but if you need the odd bit of help—say, a sleeping aid concocted by moonlight—they are the ones to ask.
No one questions the weather, as moody and erratic as a summer storm.
No one questions the (allegedly) three-hundred-year-old bird who comes to roost on the island every year.
A summer that will become legend . . .
When tragedy strikes, what made the Fernweh women special suddenly casts them in suspicion. Over the course of her last summer on the island—a summer of storms, of love, of salt—Georgina will learn the truth about magic, in all its many forms.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Summer of Salt is one of those books that quietly sneaks up on you, until before you know it, you’re fully immersed in a story of sisters, magic, and a small island overrun with birdwatchers. The fabulist elements were incorporated beautifully into the story, and I could almost feel the magic of By-the-Sea myself as I read.
Our protagonist, Georgina, is part of a long line of magical women. The only problem? She hasn’t manifested any kind of power yet, and she only has a few short months until her 18th birthday for her gift to appear. Summer of Salt follows Georgina and her twin sister, Mary (power: ability to float), over the course of their last summer on their home island of By-the-Sea before they’ll leave for the mainland for college.
The setting, coupled with Katrina Leno’s lush prose, immediately drew me into this book. By-the-Sea felt so atmospheric; all of the descriptions made me able to envision Georgina’s home perfectly. Plus, the magical elements in this story only felt natural based on such an atmospheric setting. I was fully onboard with the fact that tourists flock to this tiny island every summer to catch a glimpse of an (allegedly) 300-year-old bird (who also happens to allegedly be an ancestor of Georgina’s). By-the-Sea had all the markers of a conventional small town plus the charm of a beach town, but it also held a certain intrigue all its own. Normally, books like this one feel summery and vibrant, but there’s a tinge of melancholy throughout Summer of Salt that I think was beautiful and fitting.
Another favorite thing about this story: it features an f/f romance! Georgie identifies as a lesbian, while her love interest, Prue– a tourist along for the ride with her ornithologist older brother– is bisexual. I loved reading about their romance; I especially appreciated how simple and natural it felt. There were no unnecessary complications, miscommunications, or romantic drama. Plus, Georgina’s best friend, Vira is aromantic-asexual! And this is explicitly stated on-page multiple times! I was so happy about all of the queer representation in this story.
Georgina’s relationships with her family and friends play a central role in Summer of Salt. Her relationship with her twin sister, especially, is a major focus. I always enjoy reading about siblings, and Georgina and Mary were no exception. Georgina’s family lineage naturally plays a large part in the story, too. I loved learning about all the previous generations Fernweh women and their magic; Georgie and Mary’s mom was also pretty present in the book, which I always love seeing in YA novels.
Summer of Salt was already shaping up to be a sweet coming-of-age story, but the ending solidified this as a win for me. Without giving spoilers, Katrina Leno challenges toxic masculinity and rape culture, which I really, really appreciated. At its core, this is a story about how women are goddamn magical. It’s about women with power and the ways in which they use that power to protect the things they love.
If my review feels a bit scattered, that’s because Summer of Salt tackles so many different elements so masterfully. If I had to describe this book in comps, I’d describe it as a cross between the small-town family feels of Gilmore Girls with the magic of an Anna-Marie McLemore book. If you like your contemporary with a hint of magic, I highly suggest picking this one up this summer!
Have you read Summer of Salt? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? What are your favorite YA books that feature magical realism or fabulism?