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Book Review

The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

At 44, Charlene (Charley) Hempstead finds herself in a strained relationship with her live-in boyfriend of 20 years, Michael. He wants to get married, but Charley needs time to process the loss of her job and the imminent death of her sister, Meg, from breast cancer. When Meg asks Charley to open up the family’s abandoned lake house so they can spend a summer together like they did when they were kids, Charley cannot refuse.

She heads off to Minnesota and begins the renovations to make the house habitable again. It has been vacant for decades after the tragic drowning of their younger sister, Bunny. Their mother, Louise, refused to let anyone use the house after that summer. The tragedy also led to the dissolution of the once close Hempstead sisters and their families.

Louise rarely speaks to her sister, Jo. Jo’s youngest daughter, Beverly, Bunny’s best friend, wound up needing psychiatric therapy for several years and living in a foster home. Beverly’s older sister, Krista, served 20 years for killing a man, and the eldest sister, Hope, left to live with her grandparents. Meg had a psychotic breakdown after the drowning and forgot the entire year after Bunny’s death. Although she eventually healed, she forever mourned the loss of her close family ties.

While Charley fixes up the house, Meg writes letters to her grandmother, aunt and cousins, and invites them to house for whatever time they can in the summer. Aunt Jo will not come unless Louise gives her permission. Hope writes back that she would love to come with her two daughters, but their time is so busy, she will not know the exact dates for a while.

Hope has spun a delusional world in which she is still happily married. In truth, her husband, Frank, left her six years ago, remarried and has a son with his new wife. Their teenage daughters, Trude and Bobbi, live with their father because they cannot deal with their mother’s refusal to accept reality. Hope had gone to live with her grandmother and grandfather, the judge, after Bunny died. She wanted a life of privilege and money, and the judge was more than happy to supersede her parents and give it to her, as long as she lived by his rules.

Charley is surprised one afternoon to see her cousin, Krista, sitting outside on a lawn chair. Krista has been released from prison, but wondered if the cousins really wanted her to stay with them. Charley insists she is welcome, and they catch up on their lives. Charley admits to having found the daughter she bore out of wedlock. She got pregnant just before Bunny drowned. The father was a boy she dated over the summer whom she was never able to locate. Krista used her time in prison to undergo therapy and take classes.

Krista is thrilled to re-establish ties with Meg and Charley, and even more, to reunite with her mother, Jo. Krista gets a waitressing job at a resort on the lake, even after admitting her felony record to the manager, Jake. She fits in well with all the staff and patrons of the resort. Jake often walks her home after work and the two begin a tentative romantic relationship. He accepts her past because he has made many mistakes of his own.

Hope arrives at the house a few weeks later with Trude and Bobbi. Krista confronts Hope about her lack of honesty. Hope admits she would not have come to the house if she had known Krista was there and wanted to settle their differences. She had come believing Grandma Berkey was on her deathbed and wanted to settle everyone’s inheritance.

Trude and Bobbi plot to run away that night and get a plane back to their father. Unfortunately, a drunk driver hits them before they reach the airport. Bobbi is flown to a trauma hospital in Saint Paul while Trude is sedated and recovers with only minor injuries.

Charley calls Frank, Hope’s husband, to tell him the news. He tells Charley to keep Hope from the girls but that he will be there soon. Hope stays in the waiting room while Charley visits Bobbi. Her niece then tells her about Hope’s bizarre behavior.

In the waiting room, Hope talks nonstop to an unconscious man, making up stories about her husband and children. Hope is admitted for psychiatric evaluation. When Frank arrives, he is glad to hear the girls will make a full recovery. He and Charley try to sort out the truth from the lies Hope has told over the years.

Jo goes to visit her sister, Louise, demanding that they mend their differences so they can restore the family. Over drinks, the sisters relive the weeks before Bunny’s death. Jo’s husband, Roy, was handsome but a rogue. He wanted quick money and always lost it gambling on various business ventures or drinking it away.

His brother, Carl, who was married to Louise, always bailed him out. That last summer, Roy brought a business associate to the lake. Ivan spoke with a foreign accent and was dashing and intriguing. He claimed his companion, Corky, was a family friend. Ivan stayed in the boathouse while Corky slept in the main house.

Roy left Ivan and Corky at the lake while he returned to work. Over the next few weeks, the dashing Ivan wooed Louise. Although content in her marriage, Ivan spun romantic tales of them running away to live on a tropical island. Jo began to worry her sister might actually jeopardize her marriage and have an affair.

One night, Jo hid under the boathouse and heard Corky and Ivan having sex. She overheard them talking about conning Louise out of her money. Jo confronted Ivan after Corky left. He attacked her, forcing her on the bed, but Louise heard her screams and hit him over the head with an oar. The women panicked when they could not find his pulse.

Convinced they killed him, they put his body in his car and drove it into the lake. Then they told Corky that he left her behind when they discovered the con. They dropped her off at the bus station. Once home, Louise began to suspect Jo of being in on the con. Now that Louise murdered a man, Jo and Roy had something to hold over her so she would forgive all the money they had borrowed from her and Carl over the years.

Less than a week later, Bunny died, and the sisters never spoke again about what happened that summer. Louise later discovered that Ivan survived, but claimed to have amnesia when he showed up at a local hospital with a head injury. Jo is surprised to learn that Louise has been hoarding all their mother’s belongings in her house so that whenever Jo needed money in the future, she could sell them to help provide for her.

As the sisters begin their path to reconciliation, the cousins begin their healing as well. Hope remains under psychiatric care. Krista discovers that Jake is actually the father of Charley’s daughter. Charley holds no grudge against him, and he is determined to get to know the daughter he did not know he had.

Jake and Krista continue their relationship with the hope it may lead to marriage. Charley reconciles with her boyfriend, and the two finally get married. Early in September, Meg passes away from cancer surrounded by her loving family.

Christian Beliefs

Michael believes marrying Charley will make their commitment holy. Charley does not want to ask the locals about the identity of the boy who got her pregnant because she fears the judgment of the Methodists who go to church every Sunday. Hope volunteers at her church, but it is more to keep up appearances than because of her faith.

Louise and Jo both accompany their mother to church every Sunday, but they seldom speak with each other while there. When Charley tells her mother to get counseling to keep from being miserable, Louise retorts that she has a good Christian life. She has the Lord. But she will be d--ned to h--- before she returns to the lake house.

Charley tells Hope to pray quietly so she will stop talking on the ride to the hospital. After Krista is hired at the resort, she sits by the lake and breaks down in tears. She thanks God over and over again for this new chance at life. Jo remembers her daughter Beverly’s foster family as a godsend. Jo quotes an old saying about God taking care of drunks and children.

Jake tells Krista that going to church helped him turn his life around. He found peaceful solutions to some of his problems. Although he is an ordained nondenominational minister, he does not work as one, other than to teach a Sunday school class. He tells her he has not taken a vow of celibacy, so premarital sex is not off the table. He even suggests they could live together before marriage. Jake’s sister says she and her family will pray for Meg.

Other Belief Systems

Krista refers to her father as being “down on his luck.”

Authority Roles

The story begins with all the women as adults. In flashback, the girls remember their mothers. Louise was efficient and straightforward. Jo was softer and timid. Louise is seen as unforgiving until it is discovered that she has saved her mother’s possessions so she could provide for Jo when she retired.


God’s name is used alone and with d--n, dear, forbid, sake, oh my, above, awful, for the love of and thank. Lord is also used as an exclamation. Jesus’ name is used alone and with Christ and my. The f-word is used alone, with up and in various parts of speech. H--- is used alone and with bent. S--- is used alone and with holy, bull and house. A-- is used alone and with kiss my, pain in the, tight and bad. B--ch is used alone and with son of a. B--tard is also used along with the euphemisms jeez, OMG, crap, heck and dang. Other objectionable words are p---ing, up yours, butt, screwed, pee, suck and boobs.

When Charley told her mother she was pregnant, Louise slapped her across the face. Louise used to threaten to hang herself and the children in the basement when she was angry with her husband. The girls all watched divers drag in Bunny’s body. It was bloated, discolored and had been nibbled by fish.

Krista had an abusive boyfriend who beat her when she tried to leave him. People heard her screaming and begging for him to stop. He beat her again when she seemed afraid that he had killed a man. When he robbed another convenience store, while Krista was with him, he told her to shoot the clerk. She picked up his gun and shot him rather than the clerk.

When Jo confronted Ivan about his con, he became violent and threw her onto the bed. In self-defense, she bit his hand. He slapped her so hard she thought her jaw might be broken. He then began to choke her. Louise hit him over the head with a boat oar.

Jo and Louise believed he was dead. They dragged him into his car and drove him to a remote part of the lake. They then rolled the car into the water to make it look like he got drunk and accidently drove into it.


Krista and Jake share several passionate kisses. While in the hayloft of his family’s farm, they lie down and kiss for an hour. They remain dressed but move against each other. Krista talks about the way his kisses make her feel. They talk about having sex in the future. Jake says it should happen when two people like and respect each other. When they are comfortable with each other.

Charley fell in love with Michael instantly. Within a few months of meeting, they moved in together. They made love constantly. Charley thinks about how good she and Michael are sexually, including how he would always make sure she had two orgasms. Although explicit in nature, her thoughts are not graphic.

Jo remembers listening to Ivan and Corky have sex. Ivan tells Corky that they should not risk the con just for sex. When Jo confronts him, Ivan suggests that maybe she would like a threesome with him and Corky.

Charley and Michael have passionate and explicitly described make-up sex. Charley and Jake had been dating for several weeks when, after drinking at a party, they began making out. Jake believed Charley was 18, but she was only 16. He told her he would leave her if they did not have sex and promised he had a condom. Again, the act is described.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Charley and Krista both admit to drinking while minors. Both Charley and Jake had been drinking beer the night they had sex. Jo and Louise would have wine or cocktails many evenings at the lake house. They drink whiskey when they finally talk about the summer Bunny died.

Tobacco: Corky smokes cigarettes. Krista smoked cigarettes when she was younger.

Lying: Several characters lie. Charley lied to Jake about her age, telling him she was 18. He lied about being in college and his social status. Hope lied about almost every aspect of her life to her husband and children. She told them that Charley and Meg were her sisters, instead of her cousins. Her lies about her marriage and family seem to be a symptom of a mental illness. Ivan and Corky lie about their relationship and their reason for being at the lake house.

Stealing: Krista’s boyfriend robbed convenience stores. Jo’s husband, Roy, wanted Ivan and Corky to help him con Louise out her family’s money.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org. Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


Robyn Carr






Record Label



MIRA, an imprint of Harlequin


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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