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Summer of Salt

Book review by
Samara Meyer, Common Sense Media
Summer of Salt Book Poster Image
Sweet but overly quirky mix of magic, mystery, heavy themes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Characters talk about the field of ornithology -- the study of birds. Realistic portrayal of different sexual orientations and identities.

Positive Messages

Themes of integrity, justice, strong relationships. Emphasis is placed on self-acceptance and respecting others' personal journeys. Characters stay true to themselves and do what they know is right in the face of rumors and gossip. Importance of listening to, believing survivors of sexual assault is heavily reinforced, and rape is treated as an inexcusable, criminal offense.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite some questionable actions, the teen characters have many strengths. Georgina is smart and loyal, has a strong sense of justice. Mary is reckless but outgoing, encourages Georgina to step outside her comfort zone. Vira is creative, supportive, brave. Prue is compassionate, provides a good example of someone discovering their own identity. Relationship between Georgina and Prue is a positive, honest depiction of what it's like to navigate love as a young gay person. LGBTQ identities are embraced and celebrated by the characters' peers and family members.  

Violence

Nongraphic description of a dead animal. A rape occurs but is mostly implied, with clear depiction of punishment for the perpetrator. A teen threatens others with a handgun.

Sex

Teens kiss, go skinny-dipping, talk about dating and sex, but not graphically.

Language

Frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "d--k," "bitch," "bulls--t," and "slut." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink hard alcohol, smoke pot at parties. References to being hung over. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Summer of Salt is a coming-of-age story that blends magical realism, mystery, and romance. It's told from the perspective of 17-year-old Georgina, who struggles with living up to her family's magical legacy and the anxiety of leaving home -- not to mention dealing with the ups and downs of being one of the only out lesbians on the tiny island where she's lived her whole life. Witchcraft and magic are central to the story, with one scene involving a Ouija board. Characters swear frequently, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and "a--hole." Teens drink and smoke pot at parties, go skinny-dipping in the ocean, and talk about dating and sex. And while this is a romance, that doesn't dominate the story. There's some peril, and a teen wields a gun at one point, but no one gets shot. The plot deals with mature themes like violence and sexual assault, but there are no graphic moments.   

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What's the story?

As SUMMER OF SALT begins, Georgina Fernweh is dreading the end of summer, when she'll turn 18 and leave her island home of By-the-Sea for the very first time. Unlike her twin sister, Mary, and the rest of the Fernweh women who came before her, Georgina has yet to show signs of being magically gifted and fears she may never get her powers. Also unlike her twin sister, Georgina is terrified of starting college and the social challenges that come with it. She finally has something to be excited about when the seasonal summer tourists arrive at the Fernweh family inn, including the beautiful newcomer Prue, for whom Georgina quickly develops feelings. But when tragedy strikes and a beloved island creature winds up dead, rumors begin to fly and the island descends into turmoil. Georgina begins to question everything she thinks she knows about magic, family, and home, but she'll stop at nothing to uncover the truth.

Is it any good?

With diverse characters, a quaint setting, and a touch of mystery, this story has a whimsical tone but often feels contrived and muddled. Readers can relate to Georgina and her anxieties about the future as well as her romantic insecurities, which she handles with support from her friends and a fair bit of (occasionally morbid) humor. But the constant angst over her lack of magical powers grows tiresome quickly and makes her appear uncharacteristically oblivious to the many hints that most readers will pick up on almost instantly.

Despite their relatable qualities, author Katrina Leno overloads her characters with quirkiness, describing their personal aesthetics more than giving them depth. Even the names are quirky and a bit too on the nose -- Fernweh means "wanderlust" in German, for example. The dialogue is plagued by overly poetic and offbeat exchanges that seem unrealistic coming from small-town teens. The story's tone is poorly balanced by the main dramatic conflict, and ultimately makes the big reveal(s) feel heavy handed, which lessens their impact. But teens, especially girls, looking for a unique read and positive LGBTQ representation will likely be unfazed by Summer of Salt's stylistic shortcomings and enjoy its contemporary magical charm.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about representation and how different sexual identities are included in Summer of Salt. Why is it important to have diverse characters? How does Georgina talk about her own identity and that of her various friends? 

  • What do you think author Katrina Leno is trying to say about the issues of consent and sexual assault? How does her message compare to that of other books, movies, or TV shows that deal with these themes? 

  • How is teen substance abuse portrayed in this story, and do you think it adds anything to the plot? How do the characters' choices make you feel about them? 

Book details

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