New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer evokes the shimmering seascape of Nantucket in a delightful novel that resonates with the heartache and hope of growing up, growing wise, and the bittersweet choices we must be brave enough to make.
Courtney Hendricks will never forget the magical summers she spent on Nantucket with her college roommate, Robin Vickerey, and Robin’s charismatic, turbulent, larger-than-life family, in their gorgeous island house. Now a college English professor in Kansas City, Courtney is determined to experience one more summer in this sun-swept paradise. Her reason for going is personal: Courtney needs to know whether Robin’s brother James shares the feelings she’s secretly had for him.
Time with the Vickerey family always involves love and laughter, and this season is no different. Vivacious matriarch Susanna Vickerey is celebrating her sixtieth birthday, but beneath the merriment, trouble is brewing. The family patriarch, Dr. Alastair Vickerey, is quiet and detached, while unspoken tension looms over oldest son Henry, a respected young surgeon. Warm and witty Robin, the most grounded of the siblings, is keeping a secret from her parents. Iris, the colorful baby of the brood, remains rudderless and in need of guidance. And the sexy, stunningly handsome, untouchable James—to Courtney’s dismay—may be in love with a beautiful and vibrant local artist. As the summer unfolds, a crisis escalates, surprising truths are revealed, and Courtney will at last find out where her heart and her future lie.
Weaving the trials and uncertainty of real life into a tapestry of passion, hope, and courage, The Island House is a beautifully told story about the ties that bind us—and how the blessings of love and family heal us in ways we never dream possible.
Praise for The Island House
“Thayer’s latest should be filed under a Best Beach Reads of 2016 list. . . . The characters are complex and their struggles and concerns feel real. . . . Thayer has a really wonderful ability to showcase the meaning of family.”—RT Reviews
“A perfect book to read while sticking your toes in the sand this summer!”—Bookish Devices
“A touching story about friendship, family, and the uncertainty of love.”—Bustle
Praise for Nancy Thayer
The Guest Cottage
“A sweet book with romance, laughter, and love after loss . . . Thayer knows her Nantucket history, and it shines in this book.”—RT Book Reviews
“It’s a pleasant escape to a state of mind in which rebuilding a life is as simple as pitching an umbrella and spreading out a towel.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Thayer obviously knows her Nantucket, and the strong sense of place makes this the perfect escapist book for the summer, particularly for fans of Elin Hilderbrand.”—Booklist
“Thayer keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her dramatic story spanning the girls’ childhood to adulthood. This wonderful beach read packs a punch.”—Library Journal
“A book to be savored and passed on to the good women in your life.”—Susan Wiggs
“Full of emotion and just plain fun, this novel is delightful.”—Romance Reviews Today
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.15(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of The Island House, The Guest Cottage, An Island Christmas, Nantucket Sisters, A Nantucket Christmas, Island Girls, Summer Breeze, Heat Wave, Beachcombers, Summer House, Moon Shell Beach, and The Hot Flash Club. She lives on Nantucket.
Read an Excerpt
Courtney always took the slow ferry to Nantucket at the beginning of the summer. It was a sort of ritual for her, watching Hyannis with its docks, wharves, beach houses, and sailboats slide slowly into the background until the ship was surrounded by water, with no land in sight. It was the gentle disconnecting from the mainland that made it possible for her to let go of the real world and everything it contained. For two hours, she would sit at a window, staring out at the infinite blue sea, its white-tipped waves, its oddly serene seabirds bobbing blithely so far from land, and in the distance, like a child’s first drawing, a fishing trawler sputtering along with its nets sinking down and down into the mysterious watery unknown. Suddenly, Courtney would catch a glimmer along the horizon. Low and flat, it shimmered like a mirage, and as the steamship Nantucket rumbled along, an intense point of light would flash and disappear, flash and disappear—the first sign of Nantucket, the Great Point Light. As soon as she spotted this, Courtney would rise from her seat, walk down the aisle and push her way out through the heavy door to the bow. Here the wind whipped her hair into her face and the sun shone into her eyes and the air smelled of salt. She was almost there, and she wanted to be alert and watchful, to feel herself being borne closer and closer to the island she loved.
She was standing on the deck now, scanning the horizon for landmarks—the water tower, the cluster of rainbow sailboats daringly leaving the harbor, the buoys.
This year, this summer—this would be a time she would always remember. She was sure of that.
“Have you been to the island before?”
An older woman had come to join her, and stood next to her, her age-marked hands holding tight to the railing.
“Yes, several times, actually, for about ten years,” Courtney replied. “And you?”
The deeply tanned creases of the woman’s face readjusted themselves as she smiled. “Growing up, my family summered here. My parents left me their house, and my husband and children and I summered here. This summer our grandchildren are visiting.”
“How lucky you are,” Courtney said wistfully. She wanted what this woman had, she wanted to marry the man she loved and raise a great pack of children on the island.
The woman studied Courtney. “And where do you stay when you’re here?”
Courtney paused before admitting, “With the Vickereys on the cliff.”
“The Vickereys!” The woman stood back a pace, the better to scan Courtney up and down, appraising her. “Are you a Vickerey?”
“No, no,” Courtney hurriedly assured her. “I went to school with Robin Vickerey. We were roommates at Smith, became good friends, and I’ve just fallen into the habit of visiting a lot.” Even as she spoke the words, Courtney could hear the style, the blasé cadence of the Vickerey family: I’ve just fallen into the habit . . . As if she were one of the Vickereys and belonged in that enormous rambling house as part of their accomplished, complicated, turbulent, family.
The older woman arched an eyebrow. “I’d say you’re lucky, too, then. You’re one of Susanna Vickerey’s summer children.”
Summer children: that was what Susanna called her four children’s best friends who spent every summer in the Vickerey home, even though those “children” were adults and had been for years.
“Yes,” Courtney agreed happily. “I am.”
The first summer Courtney Hendricks spent on Nantucket, she was eighteen years old, a naïve, book-smart optimist who didn’t know what the world would throw at her but was sure she could handle it.
And after all, look at what had happened: even though she was from little ol’ Emporia, Kansas, she’d been accepted by one of the finest women’s colleges, Smith College, in Massachusetts. Even better, best of all, her roommate was Robin Vickerey, who became Courtney’s dearest friend.
Robin had long flaming red hair that curled like party ribbon and green eyes and adorable freckles spattered across her nose. With looks like that, you’d think she’d be kind of wild, but Robin was cool, calm, and collected, a quiet, studious, organized person who was a gem at stopping quarrels in the dorm. Robin and Courtney had become friends immediately. They shared the same sensibility. They were truly engrossed with their studies. They weren’t geeks, but they didn’t do quite as many stupid things as the other girls in their dorm. Courtney knew she was considered a goody-goody, which she probably was. She assumed her Midwestern upbringing was responsible for that, so she was surprised to find the same kind of careful, helpful, Girl Scoutish attitude in Robin. After she came to know the entire Vickerey family, she understood why.
On a long spring weekend of their freshman year, Robin had invited Courtney to her home on Nantucket. She’d mentioned that summer jobs as retail clerks, waitstaff, and landscapers paid outstanding money and Courtney wanted to check it out. Courtney’s parents did all right for themselves—her father owned a pharmacy for which her mother did the books. But Courtney wanted to help soften the blow of college tuition and expenses. She’d worked after school and on weekends in Emporia—why not work on Nantucket, where the pay was so much better? So she went along with Robin. They caught a ride to the Cape, took the fast ferry to Nantucket, and Susanna Vickerey, Robin’s mother, met them at the boat and drove them out to ’Sconset.
When Courtney first saw where the Vickereys lived, she was dazzled. Anybody would be. It was a huge old house with lots of bedrooms, set on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Vickerey was a surgeon in Boston; the Vickereys kept an apartment in the Back Bay, but the family home was Nantucket. They had four children, and their house was always jam-packed to its literal rafters with friends. The mother, Susanna, liked it that way. She said it filled her soul to have guests around. She called some of the guests her “summer children,” even after they turned twenty-one.
“Stay for the summer,” Robin had coaxed Courtney. “There’s always room for one more.”
Courtney had gone into town that Saturday afternoon and looked around. The town was sweet and old-fashioned yet had excellent restaurants with famous chefs and fabulous clothing stores. Lots of places needed summer help. She talked to her parents, her parents talked to Robin’s parents, and it was agreed. She went for the first summer and fit right in. She borrowed one of the Vickereys’ bikes for the ride to work and back. On rainy days, someone was always in the house and willing to drive her into town. On her days off, she went to the beach with Robin. Some nights, when the moon was full and the breeze was inviting, she and Robin wandered down to the beach parties. They drank some, but not much; it didn’t interest them. During those years they were just as interested in curling up with a good book on their time off as partying. Or simply staying at home, lounging on the back patio, drinking lemonade, having easy lazy conversations and watching the white curtains flutter as the sea breezes blew through the open windows of the marvelous great house.
That first summer was eleven years ago. Courtney had come here every summer since then. In many ways, Nantucket felt like her second home. She had graduated from college and come here to work for the summer. She had gone to grad school in Boston for a master’s in English literature and come here to work for the summer. She’d gotten a job at UMKC teaching English lit and composition, and still, as an adult, for five more summers, she had returned to this island, this house, this family. She told her parents and Kansas friends it was because she made so much money working summers in Nantucket.
But this year making money wasn’t enough of a reason for her to continue to go back East. Thank heavens it was Susanna Vickerey’s sixtieth birthday. Courtney had to be there for that. The Vickereys were throwing a huge party, and Susanna had been so wonderful to Courtney for so many years.
But even the party wasn’t the real reason.
James Vickerey was the real reason.
Courtney had been in love with him since she first met him eleven years ago. Since everyone in the Vickerey family seemed to know, share, and have opinions—which they discussed openly at the dinner table—about everyone else’s secrets, Courtney had kept her feelings fiercely private. Not even Robin knew. Courtney seldom saw James, anyway. She was always working and James was often gone, backpacking in Europe when he was in college, working with a techie start-up group in Boston after graduation.
But last year . . . Courtney gripped the ship’s railing. After what happened between them last year, she knew she had to return to the island for one more summer.
She hadn’t expected Monty Blackhorse to add to her confusion.
You would think, Courtney thought, that a woman as versed in literature as Courtney would not be surprised by anything that happened between a man and a woman.
You would think that any woman, no matter what she did, couldn’t be shocked by any man if she had grown up with a father, a brother, and a male best friend.
On the other hand, on the spectrum of men and emotions, Courtney’s father and brother were way over on the placid-headed-for-comatose end. They were strong, silent men. Not mysterious. Just silent. Her father was a gruff man’s man who came home from his pharmacy expecting dinner on the table and the television tuned to some kind of game—football, baseball, hockey—he’d even watch the fishing channel if necessary. Her brother, Donnie, was five years older, a pharmacist working with their father and planning to take over the family business someday. He was obsessed with Legos when they were small, and as Courtney became a lover of books and literature and what Donnie called “fussy stuff,” what little interest Donnie had in her faded away. Now that he was a father, he’d softened a bit, but his children were both boys whose favorite video was of monster trucks in muddy fields.
And Monty, her best Kansas male friend, had never done anything that shocked her in all the sixteen years since that first day she met him when she was trespassing on his property.
For her thirteenth birthday—her admittance into adolescence, although she’d tried to convince her parents she was an adolescent the moment she hit double digits—her parents had given in and bought her a horse of her own. Star was a buckskin mare with a white star between her eyes. They boarded her at the Schmidts’ ranch, so until she got her own car at sixteen, she had to bike out there unless she could catch a ride. She could usually pester Donnie into driving her. Her birthday was in early May. That first summer, she had the entire summer stretching before her, day after delicious day of riding.
The first time she rode Star on the Schmidts’ land, Courtney entered the stable, Star’s new home, and smooth-talked and gentled the horse as she put on the blanket and saddle. Star stood at seventeen hands. Courtney might have appreciated a stepladder, but she wasn’t going to admit it. Awkwardly, she got herself up onto the gracious old roping saddle. It was padded, with wide leather stirrups, a rocking chair of a seat. Courtney had kept Star at a gentle trot as they explored the Schmidts’ pasture, getting to know the horse, sensing how she and this horse were going to take to each other. She’d ridden Star before, and liked her, but the horse was in a new stable, and horses could be quirky. Still, Star was seven years old. She seemed easygoing and content, no kind of diva.
The next time Courtney hoisted herself up into the saddle, she relaxed a bit. Beneath her, Star nickered and fidgeted, clearly announcing that she was bored.
Courtney nudged the buckskin horse with her knees and dug her heels into Star’s sides, and they were off, galloping over a shimmering sea of sweet green grass. Never in her life, Courtney thought, would she experience anything to top the sheer soul-soaring joy of galloping across a field on the back of this horse. She and Star became one creature, united by speed, motion, bliss, and on Courtney’s part, a thrilling smidgen of terror. Star loved to run, and Courtney let her have her head. She felt the huffing of the huge animal’s lungs beneath her, the silken glide of the powerful muscles carrying her.
In the distance, she spotted a stand of cottonwood trees. Easily jumping over a fallen white rail fence, she headed Star in their direction. As they drew closer, she saw a narrow creek winding along just a few feet from the trees. It was shady there, and Courtney was glad, because even with the temperature only in the low eighties, her clothes were sweat-soaked from the ride. When they reached it, she reined Star in, took a moment to lean forward and pet her and whisper endearments to her. Her horse muttered and tossed her head, white saliva flying. Courtney dismounted and held the reins in her hand as Star drank from the creek.
Reading Group Guide
My playlist for THE ISLAND HOUSE
I grew up in Kansas and lived for a while in Missouri, but for the last thirty-two years of my life I’ve lived on Nantucket. Nantucket is a small island thirty miles out to sea. The highest speed you can drive here is forty-five miles per hour on the ten-mile straight stretch of road out to Sconset. So I don’t have much time to sample new music on the radio the way I did when I was driving eighty miles an hour across the flat prairie.
On January 4, 2015, Blake Shelton appeared as a guest on Saturday Night Live. When he sang “Boys Round Here” and walked across the stage with those long legs in cowboy boots, I went into a kind of time-warp memory meltdown. I remembered being a girl/young woman in Kansas. I remember dating a long-legged cowboy. I started scribbling notes for my next book, The Island House.
I drove around the island, going nowhere, just listening to the country western stations on the radio. (There’s something about listening to music while driving that taps right into our emotions. I wonder if scientists have studied that.) The more I listened, the faster Courtney’s cowboy beau Monty Blackhorse became real to me. I could see him. I could hear him speak with an unhurried Midwestern drawl.
Here are the songs that inspired me.
Luke Bryan’s “Drunk on You” . . . so summer romance!
Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane” . . . so country and so much fun!
Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” . . . so about a girl in love with a guy who’s with another girl! I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives.
Uncle Kracker’s “Smile” . . . because I can’t not smile when I listen to it.
Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” . . . it’s not new and I don’t know if it should be classified as country western. I downloaded it years ago and still play it because it makes me remember those first ecstatic few moments of falling in love.
Nate Ruess’s “Nothing without Love,” and my personal favorite,
Nate Ruess’s “Great Big Storm” . . . because at one time or another, we all go through great big storms, and we can’t let go. I don’t know if Nate Ruess’s music is country western, but he was born in Iowa and he reminds me of Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
All these songs took me right to a secret place in my heart and while I was there, I could write about Courtney when she was in Kansas.
They also made me remember that cowboy. Our relationship was brief, but memorable. He liked football and I wanted to live in England and write books, so our break-up was mutual. I went on to have a happy life without him, and I’m sure he had a happy life without me.
In fact, I tried to find out. I Googled him. I also checked his name on Facebook. Didn’t find him. I imagine he’s living on that black Angus ranch in western Kansas with a loving wife and four long-legged kids and they ride western and use roping saddles. I like to think that’s true.
I have a range of music on my phone and computer, from Franc’s Symphony in D-Minor to The Ting Tings “That’s Not My Name.” I simply like that music; it doesn’t cause me to flash back to a memory.
When I want to get into my “Nantucket mood,” I listen to Billy Joel’s “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’ ” a tribute to all our fishermen. And sometimes I go to YouTube to watch John Denver sing his song “Calypso,” which he wrote as a tribute to Jacque Cousteau’s research vessel. I’m fascinated by the creatures who live in the sea around us, and I love this video and the song.
I wonder if everyone has songs that bring her right back to a certain time and place and a certain someone. Has everyone Googled that someone or looked for him or her on Facebook? Does everyone have certain music she listens to when wanting to get into a certain mood? Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” I’d bet money that if he were alive today, he’d like country western music.
1. At Susanna’s birthday party, her toast is dedicated almost entirely to her summer children, but she doesn’t mention Christabel at all (Chapter 9). Why do you think she leaves Christabel out?
2. In Chapter 4, James explains to Courtney that he’s ignored her for the whole summer because he knows they can’t be together, since he doesn’t want to have children out of fear that he’ll pass on the gene for bipolar disorder. Do you agree with his initial decision to not have children because he’s a carrier? Why or why not?
3. At the very end of Chapter 4, Courtney considers marrying Monty because he’d be able to give her children. Do you think this is a reasonable decision, even though she knows James is her true love? Should she base her actions on her heart or her head?
4. Robin and Courtney have been best friends for almost a decade, yet they both keep secrets from each other. Why do you think they choose to keep some things hidden for so long?
5. The three main couples in the novel, James and Courtney, Henry and Valerie, and Robin and Quinn, almost don’t end up together because of seemingly irreconcilable differences: James and Courtney are at odds over having children, Henry and Valerie experience a stalemate over Henry’s course of treatment, and Robin and Quinn can’t agree on whether or not to leave Nantucket. Do you think the characters are right to be so set in their ways, or do you think they should have been more open to compromise? Discuss.
6. When Monty arrives on the island (Chapter 16), he provokes more engagement from Dr. V. than any other house guest. Why do you think this is?
7. At the hospital, Dr. V. is much warmer and more fatherly towards his children, and more affectionate towards his wife. What do you think caused such an obvious change in demeanor?
8. Quinn is overprotective of his daughter, Christabel, and claims to know everything about her (Chapter 20), yet somehow she manages to maintain a relationship with a man twenty years older than her without her father knowing. How does this affect your opinion of the relationship between Quinn and Christabel?
9. After the accident, Robin falls out of love with Quinn. Do you think this was caused by Quinn’s behavior in the hospital, or can Robin’s change of heart be attributed to a greater realization about herself? Discuss.
10. Why do you think that Robin feels almost no hesitation in telling Callum about the whales, when it took her at least a year to tell Quinn, the man she thought was her true love?
11. What are the main themes of the novel? Which did you find most thought-provoking?
12. Discuss the significance of the closing scene, where Robin and Callum listen to the song of an unseen whale.