Magic and mystery flood the pages of Katrina Leno’s Summer of Salt, which tells the story of two twin sisters coming of age on the small island of By-The-Sea. Loosely reminiscent of Practical Magic or The Secret Circle, the novel is delightfully fantastical while addressing major social issues. Its refreshing setting and tone are also perfect to get you in the mood for spooky season. Furthermore, compelling characters make the relatively straightforward story a memorable reading experience.
Georgina and Mary Fernweh come from a long line of witches, and while Mary has always had abilities Georgina has never shared her family’s magic. Now, during the summer before her eighteenth birthday, Georgina is ready to accept life as a normal human and leave By-the-Sea for college in the fall. However, normal doesn’t exist on By-the-Sea, where the weather changes constantly and a 300-year-old bird draws odd characters to the island every year. When a mysterious tragedy strikes, people begin to cast suspicion on Georgina and her sister, and Georgina must question everything she’s known to find the truth. With the help of her sister, her friends, and the beautiful newcomer Prue Lowry, she also learns about love and magic in all their many forms along the way.
Leno’s interpretation of magic is both an homage and innovation to YA witchcraft tropes. The classic plot line of the “black sheep without magic,” while comforting initially to lovers of the genre, becomes subverted to establish some of the deeper messages of the text. Additionally, Leno explores the darker implications of having magic when you are a teenager going through major social and emotional changes. Furthermore, the specificity of each witch’s abilities, and the inventiveness of their use in the novel, was both compelling and entertaining.
The characters in this novel are delightfully quirky, from the birdwatchers to the odd locals, but also decently fleshed out, each one at some point holding the sympathies of the reader. However, the protagonists hold the majority of the reader’s attention, which is not an issue given they are both interesting and easy to empathize with. I was especially excited to see Georgina’s romantic preference played as an innate part of her rather than a conflict the novel had to deal with. Indeed, I enjoyed her romance as well, and found it did not detract or distract from the main plot like so many others do in YA.
Along with being a solid story with inventive, enjoyable components, Summer of Salt is also beautifully written, toeing the line between understandable and eloquent in the best way possible. In particular, Leno really hits her stride whenever she’s describing the weather and how the weather is influencing the characters. Indeed, these descriptions are what give the book such a strong, magical tone.
However, there was a desire, having finished the novel, to have more exploration of Mary’s emotional journey, as the story was told primarily through Georgina’s eyes. Mary played such a huge role in the piece and ends up in such a distinct place at the end that it’s almost jarring that we saw so little of her in the beginning. To add to this, I am curious if Leno plans to write a sequel, as although the main story wrapped up there were a few plot threads I found were left a tad unfulfilled.
Ultimately, Summer of Salt is a strong addition to the YA Fantasy genre, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get in a Halloween mood. Furthermore, if you enjoy YA Fantasy in general, or want to see more diverse voices as YA protagonists, pick up this book at your local library or bookstore today.