Book Review: *The Castaways* by Elin Hilderbrand


  • The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 7, 2009)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316043892

Back of the book blurb: Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy’s closest friends for what will be revealed.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review:  The Castaways are four couples who have known each other for decades.  Two of the women are cousins; in fact, Andrea is often more of a mother-figure than peer to Tess, who is twelve years younger.  Andrea is now married to Ed Kapenash, the island’s police chief, but was deeply involved with Jeffrey Drake for many years, before he met his wife Delilah.  Confused?  You won’t be after you read The Castaways.

Elin Hilderbrand’s just-published novel combines a beautiful setting, detailed character development, and a plot that occurs as much in flashbacks as in the present.  As various histories and complex relationships are revealed chapter by chapter, we learn what has motivated and driven each of these islanders.

A huge strength, in my opinion, is the way Hilderbrand introduces us to her multi-faceted characters.  We see them in action, connected to others, and their personalities shine.  Take, for example, this passage from early in the book; it introduces Jeffrey and Delilah:

She was the kind of mother who was always doing things with the boys.  Today, [Jeffrey] knew, had started off with a nature walk; then they had picked up sandwiches in town and gone fishing on the south side of the pond, out of the wind, with Delilah tirelessly hooking and rehooking their lures.  Often the day would end with an ice cream or a movie, but today it was strawberry picking.  The boys were eight and six; they both had energy like Delilah’s – they never stopped, they never tired.  Their life was one long adventure with their mother, punctuated by treats.  She rarely said no to them.  But four evenings a week, when she left for the restaurant, Jeffrey took over and reality closed in.  He made them eat vegetables, he made them bathe, he made them rest.  He wasn’t as exciting as their mother, but they needed him.

Another passage (p. 37) describes how and why The Castaways came to be.  The four couples were planning the first of many vacations together, and Phoebe, in a holdover from her days as a tour guide, insisted that they choose a name to wear on personalized baseball caps.  This is a fantastic detail that not only gives us more of their shared histories, but tells us briefly how the eight came to live on Nantucket.  In the chapters that follow, alternating between the present and past, Hilderbrand creates layer upon layer of detail:

The Castaways:  Because Delilah has run away from her parents and found Nantucket, because Jeffrey had inherited a farm from an uncle he barely knew, because Greg had played in a (different) band with a guy whose parents owned a house in Sconset, because Andres had been recruited to be the head lifeguard in the summer of 1988 and where Andrea went, Tess was sure to follow.  Because Addison had scoped out the community with the most valuable real estate on the East Coast, and he had brought his new bride, Phoebe.  Because The Chief had been transferred from Swampscott to shape up the police department.  They had all washed up on the shores on Nantucket, and they had stayed and made it their home.  They had found each other.

The Castaways explores what happens when two members of their group die in an apparent sailing accident.  There are secrets and confidences, gossip and speculation.  Through it all, readers are treated to peeks from the past as well as seeing how the remaining Castaways respond to the loss, and how it impacts their relationships.

The island setting lends itself so well to the plot and character development.  Although not truly isolated, there is an insular feeling to this close-knit community, and the book focuses on the remaining six members of The Castaways.  Yes, there are children and grandparents mentioned, but they don’t play a major role, other than how their relationships have further shaped who the adults are.

Nantucket  is the perfect setting for this novel.  Aside from the anonymous sea and Drake’s fictional farm, Hilderbrand incorporates many of the island’s landmarks and attractions, making a connection for anyone who has spent time on the island.  Nantucket is also the setting for her previous novels, Barefoot and A Summer Affair.  You can visit Elin Hilderbrand’s website, a Ning social network with discussion boards and insider information.

Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for inviting me to be part of this virtual book tour and providing a review copy.  Click here to visit other stops on Elin Hiderbrand’s tour of The Castaways.

22 comments to Book Review: *The Castaways* by Elin Hilderbrand

  • Your review is great, as always. My family wanted my full attention while I was trying to write mine, so it is pretty pitiful.

  • That is a great review! It has a chick-litish cover, but is so not what you would expect! I look forward to reading from the rest of the tour!

  • I agree, her characterizations are pretty good.

  • Sandy is right. I never would have guessed this was what the book was about from the cover. Great review. It’s going on my list right now!

  • Kathy – I can’t write when my kids are around — I end up writing whatever words they’re saying (I’m easily distracted :) )

    Sandy – I haven’t read Elin Hilderbrand’s other books, they may involve less serious topics. I know the covers are all similar, and make me want to go to the beach with a good book!

    Janelle – I’m very impressed by the way Hilderbrand develops her characters. Such great detail of what they’ve done in the past and how they live their lives today; it really adds up to a full portrait.

    Stacy – We did a lot more with other couples before we had kids; now getting together with friends (and their families) takes a lot of planning. The complex relationships between the adults is what drew me to the book.

  • Yes, this is so much more than chick lit. Can we all go away together to Nantucket?

  • I’m really glad you reviewed this because I’ve read Elin Hilderbrand’s previous novels and enjoyed them. They’re all set on Nantucket and they’re great, beachy reads, without being too lightweight. It’s interesting how her career has really taken off recently — I guess a string of well-written books will do that for you!

  • Great review. I agree with everyone so far… so much more than I expected in the book. I am glad because my book club is reading A Summer Affair in August. Thanks for this great review.

  • Glad you enjoyed this one. I picked it up at BEA and hope to read it soon.

  • Someone was just talking about this book to me. Thanks for the great interview. I now have two recommendations. Great job. Wisteria

  • Miriam….I’m packed and ready…name a date. LOL

  • Nicole

    looks like a good read; perhaps a bit “lighter” than what I’m reading now…

  • Great review! You’re right about the characterization – each one is detailed and complex. There’s a lot going on in this book!

  • Sounds like a good read! I’ve not read any of her books but they always sound like they are good, comfort type stories. I do have one of her books on my stacks and need to move it up!

  • Miriam – I think that tour boat will need more room, with all the reservations coming in :)

    sarah – this was my first book by Hilderbrand; really took me to the island

    Toni – I hope you have a great book group discussion!

    Anna – I didn’t see it at BEA, was she there?!

    Wisteria – we’ll make room for you on the ferry!

    Nicole – it wasn’t “girl meets boy, girl loses boy” … there was much more too it. Loved the way she develops characters

    gwendolyn – yes; I enjoyed all the back stories.

    iliana – I wasn’t on the edge of my seat (not in great suspense), but it was interesting to see the story played out and the various unknowns resolved.

  • Yup, she was there. She did a signing in the autograph area. Serena and I chatted with her for a few minutes. She was very nice.

  • Kristine

    When can I borrow this ? (am going to NI for a week in August) :-)

  • Anne Trent

    I hate to burst the bubble, but of all Hilderbrand’s books, I liked this the least. The mystery aspect was interesting, but I got tired of the women whining!! I couldn’t get past the fact that the Chief was in charge of the town, but he always seemed to be off drinking and partying. The group’s trip to South Beach was definitely over the top. Somehow, it seemed they all seemed to be “trying to have fun”.

    Give me Blue Bistro for good character development and a book that had substance. I enjoyed the info on running a restaurant and what a chef goes through creating interesting dishes everyday.

  • Anna – how fun for you!

    Kristine – I dropped it at your door; enjoy your visit!

    Anne – this was the first Hilderbrand book I read. Was it perfect? no. (I didn’t think the way the kids were handled after losing both parents was realistic … but the book wasn’t about the kids, it was about the 4 couples). I really liked the character portraits the author painted. I’ll look into BLUE BISTRO when I’m ready for another of her books – thanks for the recommendation.

  • [...] I’d recommend it for a light summer-time read (or listen).  In contrast, Hilderbrand’s The Castaways, really captured me with interesting/likeable/believable characters I could connect [...]

  • Amy

    This is a great book!

  • brittany

    AT the end of the book before the epilogue. Phoebe and Addison announce something?? What was it? It is before they go into the dedication of the Walk.

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