49 pages 1 hour read

Elin Hilderbrand

28 Summers

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


28 Summers (2020) was written by American author Elin Hilderbrand. The novel is an example of early 21st-century women’s fiction. Hilderbrand is the author of 26 novels as of April 2021 and has lived on Nantucket, where many of her books are set, since 1993.

This guide uses the hardcover first edition from Little, Brown and Company (2020).

Plot Summary

At the age of 24, Mallory Blessing, who lives in New York and aspires to work in the literary sphere, unexpectedly inherits a cottage on Nantucket Island from her aunt Greta. Since she is unhappy with her life in New York and has always had an emotional connection to the island, Mallory moves to Nantucket permanently. During her first summer there, she hosts a bachelor party for her brother Cooper and his friends Frazier and Jake. Mallory and Jake have spoken on the phone several times and are intrigued by the idea of meeting each other. Jake has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend, Ursula, and romantic sparks fly between Mallory and Jake during the bachelor party, during which various mishaps occur that lead to them being alone together. They give in to their mutual attraction and decide to meet on Nantucket each Labor Day weekend, since Mallory doesn’t want to pursue a formal relationship.

Mallory gets a permanent job at the local high school as an English teacher, and quickly becomes rooted in Nantucket’s lifestyle and community. Jake, meanwhile, reunites with Ursula—a lawyer who works a grueling schedule and is emotionally distant from Jake—and the two eventually get married. Nonetheless, Mallory and Jake meet for their secret rendezvous each year. Ursula continues to advance in her law career, and Cooper’s numerous marriages bring the three characters of the love triangle into contact with one another over the course of the next decade. Frazier and Mallory have a one-night stand at one of Cooper’s weddings, and the result is a son named Link. At the same wedding, Mallory finds out that Ursula is pregnant. Because of an affair she had, Ursula isn’t sure whether the baby is Jake’s or her lover’s, but Jake makes a wonderful father to the daughter to whom she gives birth, named Bess. Mallory realizes that her feelings for Jake are so strong that she will forgo romantic relationships with anyone else, choosing to simply enjoy their annual weekend together.

Another 15 years pass. Ursula decides to leave the law field and enter politics after worrying about the world in which her daughter will grow up. She wins a congressional race, and eventually wins a senate seat. Jake has used a weekend with Cooper on Nantucket as a cover story for his meeting with Mallory, and eventually Cooper finds out about it. Horrified at the adulterous nature of Mallory and Jake’s affair, Cooper cuts off ties with Jake. Mallory has adapted well to being a single mother to Link but loses her parents in a tragic car accident. Over the course of the book, Mallory forms and continues relationships with various other characters, including Cooper, other island inhabitants, men that she dates, and her friend Leland—who ultimately reveals Mallory’s affair with Jake to Ursula.

Jake discovers a strange spot on Mallory’s back that turns out to be melanoma. Mallory is treated and doctors determine that the cancer hasn’t spread. Ursula decides to run for President. When she finds out about Mallory and Jake’s affair, she asks Mallory to give up seeing Jake so that scandal doesn’t taint her campaign. When Jake visits the island that year, Mallory insists that they can’t see each other anymore, and the two reluctantly part ways for what they assume will be the last time for several years, depending on Ursula’s political trajectory. As Link is graduating high school and leaving for college, Mallory starts experiencing vision problems and finds out that her cancer has come back, spread to her brain, and is terminal.

At Mallory’s request, Link contacts Jake to tell him about Mallory’s cancer, and Jake rushes to Nantucket to say goodbye to his lover. He brings Bess with him, and as Mallory and Jake enjoy a tender last goodbye, Link and Bess meet and are attracted to one another. Though Mallory and Jake were never able to be together publicly, the story implies that their children may embark on a love story of their own. 28 Summers explores themes of marriage, family, parenthood, infidelity, wrongdoing, love, and loss.