The City Magazine Since 1975

Lowcountry author Mary Alice Monroe explores family dynamics in her latest summer release that feels written in real time

Lowcountry author Mary Alice Monroe explores family dynamics in her latest summer release that feels written in real time
June 2021

The Summer of Lost and Found revists the Rutledge family during a pandemic

Lowcountry author Mary Alice Monroe is releasing her first young adult novel, The Islanders (Aladdin, June 2021), this month.

It wouldn’t be summer without a new Mary Alice Monroe release to tuck into your beach bag. The Isle of Palms resident and New York Times best-selling author is as dependable as sand-and-surf lovers flocking to IOP on a sunny Saturday, with a new title appearing early each beach season for the past 13 years. And this summer, despite the wrench that COVID-19 threw into many people’s plans last year, is no different. In fact, far from letting the pandemic derail her disciplined writing and relentless publishing schedule, Monroe used that wrench to pry open new material. 

The Summer of Lost and Found (Gallery Books, May 2021) finds us back at the Rutledge family’s beloved beach cottage, covering ground that readers of the “Beach House” series know well. The main characters—strong turtle-loving women of various generations and their close friends—return, but this time, wearing masks and keeping a six-foot distance. As they navigate the unknowns of what the virus will mean, Monroe gives us a novel that feels written in real time, chronicling our COVID year even as we’re still living it. Wisely, she uses the constraints of quarantine and travel restrictions to cluster together extended family members along with various love interests (reunited old sparks mixed with new flames) and a new roommate or two, thanks to pandemic-related job losses, and then observes as the personal and romantic dynamics play out. 

While Monroe’s novels typically have an environmental angle, this one zooms in on the always mystifying ecosystem of human nature—the tangle of fears, hopes, desires, uncertainties, vulnerabilities, neediness, and generosity that shape our relationships and life trajectories—and how that tangle gets even messier, or clearer, when a pandemic upends all sense of normal. Protagonist Linnea Rutledge is torn between two love interests, and Monroe uses that central tension to drive the story, while in the periphery there are themes of elderly care and dementia, generational friendship, and of course, a deep love of the Lowcountry with plenty of local tidbits tossed in (including Nathalie Dupree’s dishwashing tips and a wink to this magazine). 

Yes, there are some baby loggerheads hatching, mentions of climate change and overdevelopment, plus one good harangue about Charleston flooding, but The Summer of Lost and Found is more a love story than an environmental call to action. Monroe’s fans will not be disappointed. Make room in your beach bag.