Review: Summer of Salt – Magical in Premise, Faulty in Execution

Summer of Salt

Title: Summer of Salt
Author: Katrina Leno
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: June 5th 2018
Genre(s): Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Page Count: 272 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10




This is one of those “You could have been amazing, so what the hell happened?” books. The premise is fantastic. Described as Practical Magic meets Bone Gap, it’s about a pair of twin sisters who are about to spend their last summer in their childhood home–one that’s situated on a small island full of strange history and myth. Georgina and Mary Fernweh are descended from a line of magical women–some could control fire, others could fly and even walk on water. Sounds great, yeah?

The first quarter of the book is everything I’d hoped it would be. The island is cozy and quirky in a way that made me smile, and the conversational tone of Georgina’s narration complements the setting perfectly. It’s like we’re on a vacation with her on this island and she’s showing us all its sights and history.

And then the problems begin.

First of all, the writing style. Sometimes the prose is poetic and moving. Other times, it’s more like this:

“Hey, Kathy, what do want for breakfast?”

What do I want? I want the taste of strawberries on my lips, ones plucked fresh from my grandmother’s garden. I want to watch the dawning of the skies as the sun crawls over the horizon and the world holds its breath. I want the feel of birdsongs winding across my skin. I want to be washed by the morning mist in a baptism of hope and new beginnings.

“Just some cereal, thank you.”

Repetitions can be used for powerful effect. When used sparingly. And at choice moments. The problem with Summer of Salt is that the author doesn’t know when to stop. She’s overindulgent with her prose, and what was beautiful and effective early in the book becomes more and more grating and contrived.

Then we have the characters. While I enjoyed Georgina’s narrative voice, all the side characters were uninteresting and their relationships very shallow. The romance between Georgina and a tourist girl named Prue is painfully underdeveloped. We barely know who Prue is and yet the two of them are already declaring love for one another by the end of the story.

But my biggest problem is with Mary. Here’s the thing: I hate stories that think sexual abuse and assault can stand in for character growth. For most of the book, Mary is abrasive, insensitive, bratty, and just not all that great in general. My issue is that no one challenges her on this–not her sister nor the rest of her family. They all shrug and say, “Oh, well, that’s just who she is. But we love her anyway.” And so she remains that way until the very end, when a certain event triggers a change in her personality. She could have had an interesting character arc; her personality could have clashed with Georgina’s and they could have spent the rest of summer trying to untangle the snarls in their relationship. Instead, the author went with a cop out: use of rape as a catalyst for interpersonal conflicts.

The plot is just as underwhelming as everything else. A mystery pops up out of nowhere at the halfway point and ends up fizzling out by the end.

I had high hopes for this one, but all in all, it was a sadly disappointing read.


Review copy provided by HarperTeen and Edelweiss


13 thoughts on “Review: Summer of Salt – Magical in Premise, Faulty in Execution

  1. acquadimore says:

    …this does not sound good. Especially that Mary part. I’m not that sure I want to read this anymore, even if the premise sounded like everything I want from YA contemporary-ish novels.
    (but that part about the baptism of hope and cereals did make me laugh.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      LOL I’m glad you enjoyed my imitation attempt. 😀 And I don’t even know whether or not to recommend it because quite a few people it 4/5 stars. And I kind of get why–the setting and the history behind it *is* rather nice–but I just can’t get over the shoddy tackling of sexual abuse. Good news is that it’s short and the prose is easy, so you can probably race through if you do decide to give it a try.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. libby @ dimscreen says:

    The first sentence of your review is so perfect and exactly how I feel about it! Amazing review, and I think the way you described your issue with Mary’s character is perfectly worded. I think tackling themes such as sexual assault is extremely important but the way it is presented in this novel is largely problematic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Justine says:

    Ah, I wasn’t too interested in this, but I had to read your review! It looks like you didn’t love it, though, so I guess I’ll still pass on this one. The cover does look gorgeous though! Amazing review skills as always ^^.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. anna says:

    man i was SO excited for this book and this uhhh………. this isn;t even the first review with a low rating i saw…………..
    god using sexual abuse as a form of character development and is just……….. so fucking gross


  5. Meghan H. says:

    Thanks for your review! I wasn’t sure if I was really interested in this book so I put off buying it. Now you just saved me 20$ and a few hours of my time:) I think sexual assault is a very serious and sensitive topic that shouldn’t make it’s way into a book when the author doesn’t know how to tackle it properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Haha I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Meghan, but I’m glad this saved you money. 🙂 I had it on preorder before I got the ARC because everything about it looked and sounded so good. And I completely agree on the topic of sexual abuse/assault. It’s better to just not include it in your story than to tackle it in a poor way.


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