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The Summer Girls



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About The Book

From New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe, the heartwarming first installment in the Lowcountry Summer trilogy, a poignant series following three half-sisters and their grandmother.

Three granddaughters. Three months. One summer house.

In this enchanting trilogy set on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe captures the complex relationships between Dora, Carson, and Harper, three half-sisters scattered across the country—and a grandmother determined to help them rediscover their family bonds.

For years, Carson Muir has drifted, never really settling, certain only that a life without the ocean is a life half lived. Adrift and penniless in California, Carson is the first to return to Sea Breeze, wondering where things went wrong…until the sea she loves brings her a minor miracle. Her astonishing bond with a dolphin helps Carson renew her relationships with her sisters and face the haunting memories of her ill-fated father. As the rhythms of the island open her heart, Carson begins to imagine the next steps toward her future.

In this heartwarming novel, three sisters discover the true treasures Sea Breeze offers as surprising truths are revealed, mistakes forgiven, and precious connections made that will endure long beyond one summer.


The Summer Girls CHAPTER ONE

Carson was sorting through the usual boring bills and circulars in the mail when her fingers paused at the thick ecru envelope with Miss Carson Muir written in a familiar blue script. She clutched the envelope tight and her heart pumped fast as she scurried up the hot cement steps back to her apartment. The air-conditioning was broken, so only scarce puffs of breeze that carried noise and dirt from the traffic wafted through the open windows. It was a tiny apartment in a two-story stucco building near L.A., but it was close to the ocean and the rent was affordable, so Carson had stayed for three years, longer than she’d ever lived in any other apartment.

Carson carelessly tossed the other mail onto the glass cocktail table, stretched her long limbs out on the nubby brown sofa, then slid her finger along the envelope’s seal. Waves of anticipation crested in her bloodstream as she slowly pulled out the navy-trimmed, creamy stationery card. Immediately she caught a whiff of perfume—soft sweet spices and orange flowers—and, closing her eyes, she saw the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific, and the white wooden house on pilings surrounded by palms and ancient oaks. A smile played on her lips. It was so like her grandmother to spray her letters with scent. So old world—so Southern.

Carson nestled deeper in the cushions and relished each word of the letter. When finished, she looked up and stared in a daze at the motes of dust floating in a shaft of sunlight. The letter was an invitation . . . was it possible?

In that moment, Carson could have leaped to her feet and twirled on her toes, sending her long braid flying like that of the little girl in her memories. Mamaw was inviting her to Sullivan’s Island. A summer at Sea Breeze. Three whole rent-free months by the sea!

Mamaw always had the best timing, she thought, picturing the tall, elegant woman with hair the color of sand and a smile as sultry as a lowcountry sunset. It had been a horrid winter of endings. The television series Carson had been working on had been canceled without warning after a three-year run. Her cash flow was almost gone and she was just trying to figure out how she could make next month’s rent. For months she’d been bobbing around town looking for work like a piece of driftwood in rough waters.

Carson looked again at the letter in her hand. “Thank you, Mamaw,” she said aloud, feeling it deeply. For the first time in months Carson felt a surge of hope. She paced a circle, her fingers flexing, then strode to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of wine and poured herself a mugful. Next she crossed the room to her small wood desk, pushed the pile of clothing off the chair, then sat down and opened her laptop.

To her mind, when you were drowning and a rope was thrown your way, you didn’t waste time thinking about what to do. You just grabbed it, then kicked and swam like the devil to safety. She had a lot to do and not much time if she was going to be out of the apartment by the month’s end.

Carson picked up the invitation again, kissed it, then put her hands on the keys and began typing. She would accept Mamaw’s invitation. She was going back to the lowcountry—to Mamaw. Back to the only place in the world she’d ever thought of as home.

Dora stood at the kitchen stove stirring a red sauce. It was 5:35 P.M. and the rambling Victorian house felt empty and desolate. She used to be able to set a clock by her husband’s schedule. Even now, six months after Calhoun had left, Dora expected him to walk through the door carrying the mail. She’d lift her cheek toward the man who had been her husband for fourteen years to receive his perfunctory kiss.

Dora’s attention was caught by the sound of pounding footfalls on the stairs. A moment later, her son burst into the room.

“I made it to the next level,” he announced. He wasn’t smiling, but his eyes sparkled with triumph.

Dora smiled into his face. Her nine-year-old son made up her world. A big task for such a small boy. Nate was slight and pale, with furtive eyes that always made her wonder why her little boy was afraid. Of what? she’d asked his child psychiatrist, who had smiled kindly. “Nate isn’t so much afraid as he is guarded,” he’d answered reassuringly. “You shouldn’t take it personally, Mrs. Tupper.”

Nate had never been a cuddly baby, but she worried when his smiling stopped after a year. By two, he didn’t establish eye contact or turn his head when called. By three, he no longer came to her for comfort when he was hurt, nor did he notice or care if she cried or got angry. Except if she yelled. Then Nate covered his ears and commenced rocking in a panic.

Her every instinct had screamed that something was wrong with her baby and she began furtively reading books on child development. How many times had she turned to Cal with her worries that Nate’s speech development was behind the norm and that his movements were clumsy? And how many times had Cal turned on her, adamant that the boy was fine and she was making it all up in her head? She’d been like a turtle tucking her head in, afraid to go against him. Already the subject of Nate’s development was driving a wedge between them. When Nate turned four, however, and began flapping his hands and making odd noises, she made her first, long-overdue appointment with a child psychiatrist. It was then that the doctor revealed what Dora had long feared: her son had high-functioning autism.

Cal received the diagnosis as a psychological death sentence. But Dora was surprised to feel relieved. Having an official diagnosis was better than making up excuses and coping with her suspicions. At least now she could actively help her son.

And she did. Dora threw herself into the world of autism spectrum disorders. There was no point in gnashing her teeth wishing that she’d followed up on her own instincts sooner, knowing now that early diagnosis and treatment could have meant important strides in Nate’s development. Instead, she focused her energy on a support group and worked tirelessly to develop an intensive in-home therapy program. It wasn’t long before her entire life revolved around Nate and his needs. All her plans for restoring her house fell by the wayside, as did hair appointments, lunches with friends, her size-eight clothes.

And her marriage.

Dora had been devastated when Cal announced seemingly out of the blue one Saturday afternoon in October that he couldn’t handle living with her and Nate any longer. He assured her she would be taken care of, packed a bag, and walked out of the house. And that was that.

Dora quickly turned off the stove and wiped her hands on her apron. She put on a bright smile to greet her son, fighting her instinct to lean over and kiss him as he entered the room. Nate didn’t like being touched. She reached over to the counter to retrieve the navy-trimmed invitation that had arrived in the morning’s mail.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she told him with a lilt in her voice, feeling that the time was right to share Mamaw’s summer plans.

Nate tilted his head, mildly curious but uncertain. “What?”

She opened the envelope and pulled out the card, catching the scent of her grandmother’s perfume. Smiling with anticipation, Dora quickly read the letter aloud. When Nate didn’t respond, she said, “It’s an invitation. Mamaw is having a party for her eightieth birthday.”

He immediately shrank inward. “Do I have to go?” he asked, his brow furrowed with worry.

Dora understood that Nate didn’t like to attend social gatherings, not even for people he loved, like his great-grandmother. Dora bent closer and smiled. “It’s just to Mamaw’s house. You love going to Sea Breeze.”

Nate turned his head to look out the window, avoiding her eyes as he spoke. “I don’t like parties.”

Nor was he ever invited to any, she thought sadly. “It’s not really a party,” Dora hastened to explain, careful to keep her voice upbeat but calm. She didn’t want Nate to set his mind against it. “It’s only family coming—you and me and your two aunts. We’re invited to go to Sea Breeze for the weekend.” A short laugh of incredulousness burst from her throat. “For the summer, actually.”

Nate screwed up his face. “For the summer?”

“Nate, we always go to Sea Breeze to see Mamaw in July, remember? We’re just going a little earlier this year because it is Mamaw’s birthday. She will be eighty years old. It’s a very special birthday for her.” She hoped she’d explained it clearly enough for him to work it out. Nate was extremely uncomfortable with change. He liked everything in his life to be in order. Especially now that his daddy had left.

The past six months had been rocky for both of them. Though there had never been much interaction between Nate and his father, Nate had been extremely agitated for weeks after Cal moved out. He’d wanted to know if his father was ill and had gone to the hospital. Or was he traveling on business like some of his classmates’ fathers? When Dora made it clear that his father was not ever returning to the house to live with them, Nate had narrowed his eyes and asked her if Cal was, in fact, dead. Dora had looked at Nate’s taciturn face, and it was unsettling to realize that he wasn’t upset at the possibility his father might be dead. He merely needed to know for certain whether Calhoun Tupper was alive or dead so that all was in order in his life. She had to admit that it made the prospect of a divorce less painful.

“If I go to Mamaw’s house I will need to take my tetra,” Nate told her at length. “The fish will die if I leave it alone in the house.”

Dora slowly released her breath at the concession. “Yes, that’s a very good idea,” she told him cheerfully. Then, because she didn’t want him to dwell and because it had been a good day for Nate so far, she moved on to a topic that he wouldn’t find threatening. “Now, suppose you tell me about the new level of your game. What is your next challenge?”

Nate considered this question, then tilted his head and began to explain in tedious detail the challenges he faced in the game and how he planned to meet them.

Dora returned to the stove, careful to mutter, “Uh-huh,” from time to time as Nate prattled on. Her sauce had gone cold and all the giddiness that she’d experienced when reading the invitation fizzled in her chest, leaving her feeling flat. Mamaw had been clear that this was to be a girls-only weekend. Oh, Dora would have loved a weekend away from the countless monotonous chores for a few days of wine and laughter, of catching up with her sisters, of being a Summer Girl again. Only a few days . . . Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, it was. She’d called Cal soon after the invitation had arrived.

“What?” Cal’s voice rang in the receiver. “You want me to babysit? All weekend?”

Dora could feel her muscles tighten. “It will be fun. You never see Nate anymore.”

“No, it won’t be fun. You know how Nate gets when you leave. He won’t accept me as your substitute. He never does.”

She could hear in his voice that he was closing doors. “For pity’s sake, Cal. You’re his father. You have to figure it out!”

“Be reasonable, Dora. We both know Nate will never tolerate me or a babysitter. He gets very upset when you leave.”

Tears began to well in her eyes. “But I can’t bring him. It’s a girls-only weekend.” Dora lifted the invitation. “It says, ‘This invitation does not include husbands, beaus, or mothers.’ ”

Cal snorted. “Typical of your grandmother.”

“Cal, please . . .”

“I don’t see what the problem is,” he argued, exasperation creeping into his voice. “You always bring Nate along with you when you go to Sea Breeze. He knows the house, Mamaw . . .”

“But she said—”

“Frankly, I don’t care what she said,” Cal said, cutting her off. There was a pause, then he said with a coolness of tone she recognized as finality, “If you want to go to Mamaw’s, you’ll have to bring Nate. That’s all there is to it. Now good-bye.”

It had always been this way with Cal. He never sought to see all of Nate’s positive qualities—his humor, intelligence, diligence. Rather, Cal had resented the time she spent with their son and complained that their lives revolved around Nate and Nate alone. So, like an intractable child himself, Cal had left them both.

Dora’s shoulders slumped as she affixed Mamaw’s invitation to the refrigerator door with a magnet beside the grocery list and a school photo of her son. In it, Nate was scowling and his large eyes stared at the camera warily. Dora sighed, kissed the photo, and returned to cooking their dinner.

While she chopped onions, tears filled her eyes.

Harper Muir-James picked at the piece of toast like a bird. If she nibbled small pieces and chewed each one thoroughly, then sipped water between bites, she found she ate less. As she chewed, Harper’s mind was working through the onslaught of emotions that had been roiling since she opened the invitation in the morning’s mail. Harper held the invitation between her fingers and looked at the familiar blue-inked script.

“Mamaw,” she whispered, the name feeling foreign on her lips. It had been so long since she’d uttered the name aloud.

She propped the thick card up against the crystal vase of flowers on the marble breakfast table. Her mother insisted that all the rooms of their prewar condo overlooking Central Park always have fresh flowers. Georgiana had grown up at her family estate in England, where this had been de rigueur. Harper’s gaze lazily shifted from the invitation to the park outside her window. Spring had come to Central Park, changing the stark browns and grays of winter to an explosion of spring green. In her mind’s eye, however, the scene shifted to the greening cordgrass in the wetlands of the lowcountry, the snaking creeks dotted with docks, and the large, waxy white magnolia blooms against glossy green leaves.

Her feelings for her Southern grandmother were like the waterway that raced behind Sea Breeze—deep, and swelling with happy memories. In the invitation Mamaw had referred to her “Summer Girls.” That was a term Harper hadn’t heard—had not even thought about—in over a decade. She hadn’t been but twelve years old when she spent her last summer at Sea Breeze. How many times had she seen Mamaw in all those years? It surprised Harper to realize it had been only three times.

There had been so many invitations sent to her in those intervening years. So many regrets returned. Harper felt a twinge of shame as she pondered how she could have let so many years pass without paying Mamaw a visit.

“Harper? Where are you?” a voice called from the hall.

Harper coughed on a crumb of dry toast.

“Ah, there you are,” her mother said, walking into the kitchen.

Georgiana James never merely entered a room; she arrived. There was a rustle of fabric and an aura of sparks of energy radiating around her. Not to mention her perfume, which was like the blare of trumpets entering the room before her. As the executive editor of a major publishing house, Georgiana was always rushing—to meet a deadline, to meet someone for lunch or dinner, or to another in a string of endless meetings. When Georgiana wasn’t rushing off somewhere she was ensconced behind closed doors reading. In any case, Harper had seen little of her mother growing up. Now, at twenty-eight years of age, she worked as her mother’s private assistant. Though they lived together, Harper knew that she needed to make an appointment with her mother for a chat.

“I didn’t expect you to still be here,” Georgiana said, pecking her cheek.

“I was just leaving,” Harper replied, catching the hint of censure in the tone. Georgiana’s pale blue tweed jacket and navy pencil skirt fitted her petite frame impeccably. Harper glanced down at her own sleek black pencil skirt and gray silk blouse, checking for any loose thread or missing button that her mother’s hawk eye would pick up. Then, in what she hoped was a nonchalant move, she casually reached for the invitation that she’d foolishly propped up against the glass vase of flowers.

Too late.

“What’s that?” Georgiana asked, swooping down to grasp it. “An invitation?”

Harper’s stomach clenched and, not replying, she glanced up at her mother’s face. It was a beautiful face, in the way that a marble statue was beautiful. Her skin was as pale as alabaster, her cheekbones prominent, and her pale red hair was worn in a blunt cut that accentuated her pointed chin. There was never a strand out of place. Harper knew that at work they called her mother “the ice queen.” Rather than be offended, Harper thought the name fit. She watched her mother’s face as she read the invitation, saw her lips slowly tighten and her blue eyes turn frosty.

Georgiana’s gaze snapped up from the card to lock with Harper’s. “When did you get this?”

Harper was as petite as her mother and she had her pale complexion. But unlike her mother’s, Harper’s reserve was not cold but more akin to the stillness of prey.

Harper cleared her throat. Her voice came out soft and shaky. “Today. It came in the morning mail.”

Georgiana’s eyes flashed and she tapped the card against her palm with a snort of derision. “So the Southern belle is turning eighty.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“Why not?” Georgiana asked with a light laugh. “It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“It isn’t nice.”

“Defensive, are we?” Georgiana said with a teasing lilt.

“Mamaw writes that she’s moving,” Harper said, changing the subject.

“She’s not fooling anyone. She’s tossing out that comment like bait to draw you girls in for some furniture or silver or whatever she has in that claptrap beach house.” Georgiana sniffed. “As if you’d be interested in anything she might call an antique.”

Harper frowned, annoyed by her mother’s snobbishness. Her family in England had antiques going back several hundred years. That didn’t diminish the lovely American antiques in Mamaw’s house, she thought. Not that Harper wanted anything. In truth, she was already inheriting more furniture and silver than she knew what to do with.

“That’s not why she’s invited us,” Harper argued. “Mamaw wants us all to come together again at Sea Breeze, one last time. Me, Carson, Dora . . .” She lifted her slight shoulders. “We had some good times there. I think it might be nice.”

Georgiana handed the invitation back to Harper. She held it between two red-tipped fingers as though it were foul. “Well, you can’t go, of course. Mum and a few guests are arriving from England the first of June. She’s expecting to see you in the Hamptons.”

“Mamaw’s party is on the twenty-sixth of May and Granny James won’t arrive until the following week. It shouldn’t be a problem. I can go to the party and be in the Hamptons in plenty of time.” Harper hurried to add, “I mean, it is Mamaw’s eightieth birthday after all. And I haven’t seen her in years.”

Harper saw her mother straighten her shoulders, her nostrils flaring as she tilted her chin, all signs Harper recognized as pique.

“Well,” Georgiana said, “if you want to waste your time, go ahead. I’m sure I can’t stop you.”

Harper pushed away her plate, her stomach clenching at the warning implicit in the statement: If you go I will not be pleased. Harper looked down at the navy-trimmed invitation and rubbed her thumb against the thick vellum, feeling its softness. She thought again of the summers at Sea Breeze, of Mamaw’s amused, tolerant smile at the antics of the Summer Girls.

Harper looked back at her mother and smiled cheerily. “All right then. I rather think I will go.”

Four weeks later Carson’s battered Volvo wagon limped over the Ben Sawyer Bridge toward Sullivan’s Island like an old horse heading to the barn. Carson turned off the music and the earth fell into a hush. The sky over the wetlands was a panorama of burnt sienna, tarnished gold, and moody shades of blue. The few wispy clouds would not mar the great fireball’s descent into the watery horizon.

She crossed the bridge and her wheels were on Sullivan’s Island. She was almost there. The reality of her decision made her fingers tap along the wheel in agitation. She was about to show up on Mamaw’s doorstep to stay for the entire summer. She sure hoped Mamaw had been sincere in that offer.

In short order Carson had given up her apartment, packed everything she could in her Volvo, and put the rest into storage. Staying with Mamaw provided Carson with a sanctuary while she hunted for a job and saved a few dollars. It had been an exhausting three-day journey from the West Coast to the East Coast, but she’d arrived at last, bleary-eyed and stiff-shouldered. Yet once she left the mainland, the scented island breezes gave her a second wind.

The road came to an intersection at Middle Street. Carson smiled at the sight of people sitting outdoors at restaurants, laughing and drinking as their dogs slept under the tables. It was early May. In a few weeks the summer season would begin and the restaurants would be overflowing with tourists.

Carson rolled down the window and let the ocean breeze waft in, balmy and sweet smelling. She was getting close now. She turned off Middle Street onto a narrow road heading away from the ocean to the back of the island. She passed Stella Maris Catholic Church, its proud steeple piercing a periwinkle sky.

The wheels crunched to a stop on the gravel and Carson’s hand clenched around the can of Red Bull she’d been nursing.

“Sea Breeze,” she murmured.

The historic house sat amid live oaks, palmettos, and scrub trees overlooking the beginning of where Cove Inlet separated Charleston Harbor from the Intracoastal Waterway. At first peek, Sea Breeze seemed a modest wood-framed house with a sweeping porch and a long flight of graceful stairs. Mamaw had had the original house raised onto pilings to protect it from tidal surges during storms. It was at that same time that Mamaw had added to the house, restored the guest cottage, and repaired the garage. This hodgepodge collection of wood-frame buildings might not have had the showy grandeur of the newer houses on Sullivan’s, Carson thought, but none of those houses could compare with Sea Breeze’s subtle, authentic charm.

Carson turned off the lights, closed her bleary eyes, and breathed out in relief. She’d made it. She’d journeyed twenty-five hundred miles and could still feel the rolling of them in her body. Sitting in the quiet car, she opened her eyes and stared out the windshield at Sea Breeze.

“Home,” she breathed, tasting the word on her lips. Such a strong word, laden with meaning and emotion, she thought, feeling suddenly unsure. Did birth alone give her the right to make that claim on this place? She was only a granddaughter, and not a very attentive one at that. Though, unlike the other girls, for her, Mamaw was more than a grandmother. She was the only mother Carson had ever known. Carson had been only four years old when her mother died and her father left her to stay with Mamaw while he went off to lick his wounds and find himself again. He came back for her four years later to move to California, but Carson had returned every summer after that until she was seventeen. Her love for Mamaw had always been like that porch light, the one true shining light in her heart when the world proved dark and scary.

Now, seeing Sea Breeze’s golden glow in the darkening sky, she felt ashamed. She didn’t deserve a warm welcome. She’d visited a handful of times in the past eighteen years—two funerals, a wedding, and a couple of holidays. She’d made too many excuses. Her cheeks flamed as she realized how selfish it was of her to assume that Mamaw would always be here, waiting for her. She swallowed hard, facing the truth that she likely wouldn’t even have come now except that she was broke and had nowhere else to go.

Her breath hitched as the front door opened and a woman stepped out onto the porch. She stood in the golden light, straight-backed and regal. In the glow, her wispy white hair created a halo around her head.

Carson’s eyes filled as she stepped from the car.

Mamaw lifted her arm in a wave.

Carson felt the tug of connection as she dragged her suitcase in the gravel toward the porch. As she drew near, Mamaw’s blue eyes shone bright and welcoming. Carson let go of her baggage and ran up the stairs into Mamaw’s open arms. She pressed her cheek against Mamaw’s, was enveloped in her scent, and all at once she was four years old again, motherless and afraid, her arms tight around Mamaw’s waist.

“Well now,” Mamaw said against her cheek. “You’re home at last. What took you so long?”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Summer Girls includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Marietta Muir is worried that her much-loved granddaughters, though as different as can be, are estranged. Now fully grown, Carson, the free spirit; Dora, the Southern-belle-turned-stay-athome- mom; and city girl Harper haven’t spent time together since their long childhood summers with their Mamaw at Sea Breeze, the beach house on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. But when Marietta schemes to bring her girls back together for her eightieth birthday party, the women’s differences threatens to tear them apart once and for all. An L.A. photographer, Carson feels most at home when she’s in the water. But the ocean’s magic isn’t enough to keep her emotional demons at bay. When she comes to Sullivan’s Island, Carson is offered a fresh start . . . with some help from a marine biologist, a dolphin named Delphine, and her sisters—the summer girls.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Dora’s initial reaction to Mamaw’s plan to bring the summer girls together for the season is to call it “blackmail” (p. 173). Do you agree with Dora, or are you sympathetic with Mamaw’s scheme? Why or why not?
2. Besides Harper, Carson, and Dora, Mamaw and Lucille have perhaps the most complex and important female relationship in the book. Describe their friendship. How do the two older women serve as role models to the younger three?
3. Mamaw plans to give her granddaughters their pearl necklaces early in the book, before we know Dora, Carson, or Harper very well as characters. What could you assume about each of the summer girls based on Mamaw’s choices for them? Were those assumptions accurate?
4. Carson is Mamaw’s favorite granddaughter: “It might have been because she’d spent the most time with the motherless girl when she’d come for extended stays after being unceremoniously dumped by her father when he was off on a jaunt. But Carson was also the most like Marietta, passionate about life and not afraid to accept challenges, quick to make up her mind, and a tall beauty with a long history of beaus” (p. 37). Which of the three sisters did you relate to most, and why?
5. Dora has not been open with her family concerning Nate’s autism. Do you think this was a decision on Dora’s part, or simply benign silence? What would prompt this? Do you think her hesitancy was ultimately more helpful or harmful for Nate?
6. Discuss how Parker’s legacy affected his mother and each of his three daughters. The negative sides of his alcoholism and abandonment are obvious, but can you identify any positive effects of his actions?
7. In addition to their individual conflicts with each other, Harper, Carson, and Dora each have a complicated relationship with their grandmother. While they love her, they each feel guilty about being gone from Sea Breeze for most of their adult lives and, at times, resent Mamaw for her meddling. What are Mamaw’s biggest faults in this novel? Why do you think Mamaw has decided to try “tough love” with her granddaughters?
8. Blake has to explain to Carson why befriending wild dolphins is dangerous not only to the dolphins themselves, but also to humans. Do you agree that Blake’s anger with Carson over Delphine’s life-threatening injuries is justified? Who do you think is most to blame?
9. Forgiveness is a major theme in this novel. Consider Carson’s history with her father and her mother and all the years of secrets, silence, and enabling. Carson has confrontations with Blake (over Delphine), Brian (over her theft), and Dora (over what Dora reveals about her mother’s death). How do all of these scenes lead to her growth as a character?
10. Carson and her grandmother are the two characters who were closest to Parker. How did Parker’s actions impact Mamaw and Carson’s relationship with each other, even after his death?
11. Throughout the novel, Carson is fearful of attachments— to a place, to a job, and especially to a man. Why do you think she suffers from an inability to commit? What role does Delphine play in helping her to connect again with her sisters? To Blake? To herself? What is Carson’s challenge at the end of the book?
12. The Summer Girls is the first book in Mary Alice Monroe’s trilogy about Sullivan’s Island. Predict what the next two books will have in store for Dora and Harper, Carson, Blake, and Delphine?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In The Summer Girls, Carson befriends Blake, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which has ocean, weather, and fishery branches in every state. Research the NOAA, and explore their Volunteer website, http://, and also see Mary Alice Monroe’s Conservation page, http://www.maryalicemonroe .com/site/epage/116387_67.htm. With your book club, plan a group outing or fund-raiser to support the NOAA or another local wildlife preservation organization. 2. “I would like each of you to list the item that you most want to have. The one item you are desperate for, more than any of the others. I want to be sure you each take something from the house that you love” (p. 169). Mamaw lures her girls to stay for the summer with keepsakes from her home. Monroe reveals through flashbacks why Carson selected her treasure—the portrait—and how monetary value played no part in her decision. Every family has their unique “treasures.” Discuss with your book club the family heirloom that means the most to you. Suggest that each member bring in a picture of her “treasure” to share and tell why that item has value. What would you like to leave to future generations, and what treasured mementos are most precious to you? 3. Evoke the book’s setting by channeling Lucille’s home-style Southern cooking. Plan to host your book club as a potluck, with each member cooking one of Lucille’s signature dishes, like mashed potatoes, lemon bars, hush puppies, gumbo, and sweet tea. Make copies of each recipe for all of your book club members to take home. You could even bind them together to create your own The Summer Girls cookbook!

About The Author

Photograph © Anne Rhett Photography

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-seven books, including the bestselling The Beach House series. Monroe also writes children’s picture books, and a middle grade fiction series called The Islanders. She is a member of the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing; the South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence; the SW Florida Author of Distinction Award; the RT Lifetime Achievement Award; the International Book Award for Green Fiction; the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award; and her novel, A Lowcountry Christmas, won the prestigious Southern Prize for Fiction. The Beach House is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, starring Andie MacDowell. Several of her novels have been optioned for film. She is the cocreator and cohost of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. Monroe is also an active conservationist and serves on several boards. She lives on the South Carolina coast, which is a source of inspiration for many of her books. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (June 25, 2013)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476709000

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Raves and Reviews

"Mary Alice Monroe has taken the rich waters of the Atlantic Coast as her own field of dreams. In The Summer Girls,she sings a song of praise to the bottle-nosed dolphins that bring so much joy to the men and women who gaze at the creeks and rivers of the low country each evening. Like all her books, The Summer Girls is a call to arms."

– New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy

"The Summer Girls is more than just a beautifully written, moving portrayal of three sisters finding themselves and each other after years of separation. It's also an important book that deals head-on with significant issues so skillfully woven into the narrative that I often stopped to consider the import of what I'd just read. If you're a dedicated environmentalist, this book is a must-read. If you're just someone who enjoys a good story, you'll get that, too, and much more."

– New York Times bestselling author Cassandra King

"The Summer Girls conveys sound environmental messages through a captivating story of how the ocean and a charismatic dolphin reunite sisters in the alluring ecological setting of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The story resonates on a personal level and, moreover, delivers a powerful reminder of the importance of protecting dolphins and the environment in which they live."

– Patricia Fair, Director, Marine Mammal Program, NOAA

“Monroe’s resplendent storytelling shines even brighter . . . [with] startling insights into the intimate connection between nature and the human heart.”

– New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry

“In the bestselling tradition of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Mary Alice Monroe skillfully weaves together issues of class, women’s rights, and domestic abuse set in the tumultuous South during the 1970s. . . . Beautifully wrought, and rich with keen insight . . . an unforgettable tale of marriage, resilience, and one woman’s private strength.”

– Bookreporter

“Magical! Mary Alice Monroe's writing is always sensitive and true, and as inspiring as the natural wonder about which she writes. This luminous tale—set in the South Carolina Lowcountry that we both love so deeply—was hard to put down.”

– Dorothea Benton Frank

“Monroe brings authenticity and a sense of wonder to the plight of the endangered sea turtles and their miraculous capacity for survival.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Monroe utilizes her signature combination of informative storytelling wrapped in the relatable sagas of her protagonists.”

– Charleston City Paper

“An exquisite, many-layered novel of an unsolved mystery, an obsession, a reconciliation, and a little romance.... Treats readers to lush descriptions of nature."

– Booklist

"An author of power and depth."

– RT Reviews

"A consummate storyteller."

– The Best Reviews

"A master storyteller."

– Southeastern Charm magazine

"A strong, warm voice that brings the South to life."

– Powell's Book Review

"Mary Alice Monroe has written another novel that is helping to redefine the beauty and magic of the Carolina Lowcountry. Every book she has written has felt like a homecoming to me and...she has succeeded in making the marshes and rivers of the Lowcountry her literary home.... Haunting."

– New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy

"Monroe makes her characters so believable, the reader can almost hear them breathing."

– Booklist

"Mary Alice Monroe has become one of the premier voices contemporary women's fiction today. Her lyrical, emotional, and gripping stories make for superb reading experiences."

– RT Book Reviews

"A soaring, passionate story of loneliness and pain and the simple ability of love to heal and transcend both. Mary Alice Monroe's voice is as strong and true as the great birds of prey of whom she writes."

– Anne Rivers Siddons

"Mary Alice Monroe writes from her heart to the hearts of her readers."

– Charleston Post & Courier

"Such a wonderful, exciting new read! Very well written and addicting! Looking forward to the next book in the series. Mary Alice--hurry up!"

– Books Unlimited

"Mary Alice writes the most readable books with important environmental story lines, but "The Summer Girls"might be my favorite. It's about family, finding yourself, getting through bad issues that could weigh you down, and enjoying the ride with the warm embrace of family. And there's a wild dolphin who helps heal the pain but finds his own. This book has everything--sense of place, family, strong characters, romance,a love of dolphins and more. This is BETTER than a beach read; this is a great book club book to discuss! Can't wait for the next in the trilogy. thanks, Mary Alice!"

– First Reads

"How wonderful it is to be able to dig into a summer novel and not only get so much pleasure from the awesome story, but to learn, learn, learn...[S]he brings new awareness to those of us who need enlightening."

– Maurice on Books

"[A] beautifully written and thought provoking work of fiction. Mary Alice Monroe once again delivers on her promise to write books that explore the beauty in nature and the complexity of human relationships as she delves into the human psyche."

– Linda Hitchcock of Booktrib

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More books from this author: Mary Alice Monroe

More books in this series: Lowcountry Summer