It’s the summer of 1976 on the Isle of Wight. Eighteen-year-old Vaughn Lewis has left Birmingham to spend the summer staying with his aunt and uncle and to work as a bus conductor. Aimee Eichelberger and her friend Shelby are Americans studying at Oxford, and they’re spending a work summer as hotel maids on the Isle of Wight as well. What none of the young people know as they arrive is that their stories are interconnected in almost double and triple loops, and the summer will change their lives forever.
Vaughn’s uncle operates a toy shop; his aunt is a night club singer at the hotel where the two girls work. The aunt’s singing brings in the crowds. Aimee’s father is a U.S. general, recently responsible for the entire air war in Vietnam. But back in his youth, he was a pilot stationed in England in World War II, and he knew both Vaughn’s aunt and his mother.
Another loop in the story is the hotel owner, a youngish amateur military historian who is also the island’s resident lecher. And he has his eye out for Aimee.
Overlaying the individual stories is a story of faith. Vaughn is considering wandering from his faith and is infatuated with Aimee. Aimee seems determined to wander from hers, but not necessarily with Vaughn. Shelby is trying to keep her friend in line, but she’s quietly falling for Vaughn. Vaughn’s aunt may be having an affair with the hotel owner.
The Summer of ’76 by Ray Burston tells the stories of Vaughn, Aimee, Shelby, and the other characters. It develops slowly; Burston weaves back story with contemporary events and characters. At first the reader isn’t sure where this story is headed, until the bigger picture emerges, and we learn that families have secrets. And those secrets can transform lives and relationships. And then we realize it’s a wow of a story.
Burston is the author of several novels, including Mr. Smith & Miss Patel, The Soughing of the Wind, The Black Country Gigolo, To Reach for the Stars, The Snakeman of Sneyd End, Act of Atonement, Angels Unawares, The Making of the Member, The Making of the Minister, and Operation Spread Eagle. He lives in the English Midlands.
Burston seamlessly weaves his story with actual news events of the time – a severe drought in England, the recent end of the Vietnam War, a new battleship, and the music of the period (especially the music). He also tells the story of the characters’ Christian faith in a realistic way. And it works incredibly well. When you finish The Summer of ’76, you finally understand what a grand story it is.