The Quick Plot Synopsis and Section-by-Section Summary for 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
Table of Contents
Quick Plot Synopsis
For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand.
In the Prologue in 2020, Mallory Blessing is dying of cancer, and leaves a note for her son Link to call someone. He does, and it turns out to be Jake McCloud, the husband of a current presidential candidate, who agrees to come immediately.
In Part I in 1993, Mallory is in her early twenties when she inherits some money and a cottage in Nantucket. She meets Jake when her newly-engaged brother, Cooper, brings him to the cottage for a mini-bachelor's weekend. Mallory and Jake share a romantic weekend together, but Mallory is reluctant to start a long-distance relationship. Jake soon gets back together with his on-and-off-again lawyer girlfriend, Ursula de Gournsey. Jake and Mallory continue to see each other for romantic weekends over several summers until Ursula's father dies. Jake marries Ursula and the weekends stop. But when their marriage hits a rocky spot, the weekends start up again, with Ursula believing it's an annual boys' weekend. Ursula is soon pregnant, and Mallory also ends up pregnant from a hook-up with a childhood friend of her brother's, Fray.
In Part II, Ursula has her baby, Elizabeth ("Bess"). (Ursula was also having an affair and the baby could potentially be her co-worker's, Anders. However, Anders dies on September 11.) Ursula rethinks her life priorities and decides to run for office. She's elected to the House of Representatives and later the Senate. Meanwhile, Mallory has her baby, Lincoln ("Link"). Mallory dates around, but her heart is stuck on Jake who she continues to see at the "same time, next year" for weekends in Nantucket. Cooper figures out what's going on when Ursula asks him about his non-existent boys' weekends with Jake, and Cooper decides to cut Jake out of his life.
In Part III, Mallory's parents die in a car accident. Ursula suspects Jake is having an affair with Mallory due to a post on a blog by Leland, Mallory's best friend. Ursula asks Cooper, but he lies. Mallory soon learns she has skin cancer. Around the time Link leaves for college, Mallory's vision starts to blur due to the cancer. Meanwhile, Ursula begins her presidential campaign, and she now knows about the affair because one of her donors (Bayer Burkhart) once dated Mallory and she told him. Ursula tells Mallory to stay away from Jake, and she agrees. However, a year later, Jake gets the call from Link (about the cancer). Jake immediately leaves for Nantucket, taking his daughter Bess along. Jake sings to Mallory on her deathbed.
The book ends with Link and Bess meeting, with Link offering to show Bess the way to the beach.
In 2020, Mallory Blessing, dying of cancer, leaves her 19-year-old son Link a scrap of paper with a phone number. It says “Please call.” Jake McCloud, the husband of a current presidential candidate, answers the phone. When told the news, McCloud tells Link that he’ll come immediately.
Part I: Twenties
Summer of 1993
In 1993, Mallory is 24, in a dead-end job and living on a futon in her best friend Leland Gladstone’s living room in the Upper East Side. Her father calls to tell her that her Aunt Greta has passed away, leaving Mallory a cottage in Nantucket as well as $100,000. (Greta had been a lesbian, and Mallory was the only one who tried to keep in contact with her after Greta came out.) Mallory is eager for the change, moves to Nantucket and gets a job.
Soon, Cooper, Mallory’s brother, gets engaged to his waitress girlfriend, Krystel Bethune. Cooper has always been the golden child and now works for the prestigious Brookings Institute, a D.C. think tank. He wants to have his mini-bachelor party at the Nantucket cottage, with his friends — Fraiser Dooley (“Fray”) and Jake McCloud — over Labor Day weekend. Krystel freaks over over Cooper’s weekend away, and Jake admits that he thinks Kystel is pretty but there’s not much else there.
Fray is Leland’s ex-boyfriend. Fray is also Cooper’s childhood friend who grew up with only his grandparents. And Leland also calls soon to say that she has booked a flight over the same weekend to see Mallory. Fray and Leland are excited to see each other again.
Jake was Cooper’s big brother in their university fraternity. Jake turns out to be quite cute. He works as a D.C. lobbyist. Mallory has spoken to him flirtatiously on the phone a few times when calling her brother at college. Jake and Mallory are flirty all weekend, and Jake kisses her. They sleep together, and he tells her about his twin sister, Jessica, who died of cystic fibrosis. They hang out for a few days, but Mallory has tried a long-distance relationship before and doesn’t want to try it again. She’s also been asked out by a cute officer, J.D., who lives nearby. She suggests that they hang out next summer, and he promises to come back.
Cooper’s wedding comes up, but Jake and his ex are now back together. Jake has had an on-and-off relationship with his hometown girlfriend, Ursula de Gournsey, who now works as an SEC lawyer in D.C. Ursula and Jake have a lot of history and she was Jessica’s only friend who stood by her through her disease. Jake and Ursula go to the wedding together, but he ends up kissing Mallory.
Summer of 1994 – 1998
After the wedding, it becomes clear that Krystel is a crackhead, which Cooper hadn’t realized. Their marriage disintegrates after nine short months. In summer of 1994, Jake and Cooper go to Nantucket to console Cooper. Mallory is dating J.D. casually, and Jake is with Ursula, but it turns into a romantic weekend nonetheless.
In the summer of 1995, Mallory is now a full-fledged teacher at the local school. She’s also decided to break up with J.D. In NYC, Leland has started dating a famous female novelist, Fiella (“Fifi”) Roget. JD, oddly, starts dating Tonya Sohn, Mallory’s newly divorced mother. Ursula and Jake are now living together. Still, in the summer of 1996, Jake returns for a romantic weekend with Mallory (which Ursula believes is an annual boys’ weekend), but in the midst of their bliss, Ursula calls urgently to say that her father has died. The next day, Jake rushes back home to see her. Jake soon proposes to Ursula.
In the summer of 1997, Jake and Ursula get married. That weekend, Leland and Fifi go to see Mallory. Leland announces that her parents are getting a divorce, because her father has been cheating with Fray’s mother. It’s been on and off for a long time. When Leland and Fifi get into a fight, Mallory escapes to a local bar and ends up meeting an older wealthy man, Bayer Burkhart. She begins seeing Bayer, who teaches her to sail. However, she soon learns that Bayer is married with children. Mallory offhandedly tells Bayer about her affair with Jake.
In 1998, that Winter, Greta’s partner (before she passed away) Ruthie, is finally welcomed by the family for the holidays. Mallory’s parents apologize for their former intolerance. Mallory sees Jake when he hangs out with Cooper. Mallory and Jake dance together at the bar.
Summer of 1999 – 2000
By 1999, Ursula has quit her SEC job and is now working in M&A at a law firm. Jake quits his job, too, and is unemployed. Jake has a stint at the hospital when he is ill, and his old coworker drops off an envelope with photos of Mallory that he’d left at the office. Jake wonders if Ursula peeked at them, and reluctantly throws them away. Ursula soon takes a trip to Las Vegas and Jake gets angry when she accidentally locks him out of their room.
When Ursula gets busy with work, Jake decides to head to Nantucket that summer. Mallory has purchased a sailboat named Greta so they can sail. Jake talks about them growing old together, and Mallory says she loves him. He says he loves her, too.
In summer 2000, Cooper gets married again, to Valentina Suarez, an administrative assistant at the Brookings Institute. At the wedding, Mallory hears Ursula retching in the bathroom. Ursula says that she thinks she’s pregnant and implies that it’s not Jake’s child. Mallory decides it’s not her place to tell Jake. Drunk, Mallory hooks up with Fray at the wedding, and she gets pregnant. When she and Jake meet up ten days later, she tells him.
Part II: Thirties
Summer of 2001 – 2003
In 2001, Ursula is surprisingly happy as a mother, despite her work-a-holic nature. It makes her think about her priorities and what she really wants in life. She wants to make a mark in the world.
The baby could potentially be the child of Anders, a co-worker she began an emotional affair with in Las Vegas, but became a physical affair. But Anders cuts off the affair when he hears of the pregnancy and moves to New York. When the baby, Elizabeth (“Bess”) turns out to look more like Jake than Anders, Ursula is relieved. Jake is now working as the VP of development for the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation, and he goes to Nantucket that summer. September 11 happens, and Anders is presumed dead. That night, Ursula tells Jake she wants to move to South Bend, their hometown, and run for Congress.
In 2002, Mallory’s child, Lincoln (“Link”), is now 1 year old. Fray and Mallory have been co-parenting the baby together, platonically. Mallory and Jake continue to see each other in Nantucket. Ursula runs as an independent and wins a seat in the House of Representatives.
In 2003, Mallory meets Scott Fulton, who she once bought her car from ten years ago. He sold his car to go to business school, went into commercial real estate, got divorced and now he’s back. He’s building affordable housing units now. They start dating soon after Mallory and Jake’s annual weekend together. Scott is great with Link. However, she eventually realizes that she’s not in love with him. Her heart belongs to Jake.
Summer of 2004 – 2010
In 2004, Mallory’s closest friend and co-worker, Apple, is getting married to a man named Hugo. But it overlaps with her weekend with Jake. Mallory worries about what to do, until Apple decides to elope, and Mallory is delighted to be able to see Jake. In 2005, Fifi comes to Mallory’s class for a talk, which impresses her students. Fifi warns Mallory that she’s leaving Leland, ending their decade-long relationship.
In 2006, Ursula is mulling a run for a senate seat. She’s a media darling, known for being beautiful, stylish and smart. Jake’s career is also doing well. After a well-known cystic fibrosis representative drops out of a fundraiser, Jake tells his own story about his sister Jessica’s battle. It raises a huge amount of money, and he continues fundraising in this fashion. Later, Ursula has a meeting with Bayer Burkhart (coincidentally, the same older wealthy guy that Mallory dated), a major potential donor for Ursula, which conflicts with Jake’s Nantucket weekend, and she wants Jake to go. But Jake refuses to skip the weekend trip.
In 2007, Cooper gets married yet again. Ursula mentions the Nantucket weekends to Cooper and his new wife, Tish. Cooper figures out that something untoward may be going on between Jake and Mallory, but Jake refuses to discuss it. Later, Cooper decides to cut Jake out of his life for the time being. In 2008, Ursula becomes a senator. In 2009, Jake finds out Ursula has take NRA money, and he insists that she return it. She refuses.
Part III: Forties
Summer of 2011 – 2014
In the summer of 2011, some unattended candles cause a fire as Jake and Mallory are together, and Mallory’s police officer ex-boyfriend, JD, shows up as a result. JD had always been very jealous, and Mallory worries that he’ll figure out who Jake is and become a liability. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to know.
In 2013, Mallory and Cooper’s parents die in a car accident. Jake decides not to go to the funeral, saying that he and Ursula would be a distraction there because of her high profile. But Ursula goes anyway without him. Ursula meets Leland there, who now runs a blog with a decent following. Leland interviews Ursula for the blog. After the funeral, Mallory gets drunk and confesses to Leland about her affair with Jake.
In 2014, Link spends the summer playing baseball. He decides he doesn’t want to go stay with his dad (Fray) for the rest of summer as he usually does in order to hang out with his friends, but Mallory knows that would interrupt her weekend with Jake. When Fray agrees that the timing is bad for him anyway (he’s just had a child and his wife, Anna, has post-partum depression), Mallory asks Cooper to let Link stay with him. Cooper gets angry, revealing that he knows about the affair. However, he agrees to it when Mallory says she is too upset over their parents’ death to deal with a breakup, too.
Summer of 2015 – 2017
In 2015, Leland writes an article for her blog about Mallory’s affair, but anonyomizes it. However, when Ursula comes across it (and the mentions of specific details like sand dollars and fortunes from fortune cookies), she recognizes the details as Jake’s Nantucket keepsakes. Ursula calls Cooper to ask about their boys’ weekends, and Cooper lies. Mallory is furious with Leland when she learns about the article. Meanwhile, talk of a potential presidential run for Ursula start up.
In 2016, Mallory worries that 16-year-old Link is off making out with his girlfriend and getting high with friends. During Jake and Mallory’s weekend together, they run into Bayer Burkhart. Jake also finds a spot on Mallory’s skin and insists she get it checked out.
In 2017, Mallory knows she has skin cancer. They’ve caught it early, but the doctor stresses that she has to avoid the sun. Meanwhile, Link’s girlfriend is doing an immersion program for the summer, and he’s crestfallen and wants to stay home for the summer. This creates a problem for Mallory’s labor day weekend plans. Mallory seriously considers renting a $25,000-a-week rental to get rid of Link for the week. Instead, Link ends up going to NYC that weekend to hang out with his girlfriend before she leaves for her trip.
Summer of 2018 – x
In 2018, the new Supreme Court nominee, Stone Cavendish, is accused of attacking a woman who comes forward, and it causes a media storm. Jake and Bess believe the woman, but Ursula doesn’t feel there’s enough evidence that he did it. More women come forward. Then, Bayer Burkhart calls Ursula and urges her to confirm Cavendish, mentioning that he knows about Ursula’s affair with Anders, which could ruin her image if it became public knowledge. However, when a third-party witness comes forward, Ursula feels certain Cavendish is lying and votes no. Cavendish is confirmed anyway, but Ursula comes out looking like a hero. Burkhart doesn’t care since he got what he wanted, and he suggests that Ursula run for president.
In April 2019, Link starts getting college acceptance letters. He plans to study political science at the University of South Carolina. Over the months, Mallory notices a growing blurriness in her vision. In the fall, she sends Link off to college. A week later, Ursula drops by her cottage. She explains her candidacy and that she needs to vet her past. She knows about the affair, thanks to Bayer Burkhart who had put the dots together and recalled that Mallory had once told him about it. Ursula says it needs to stop, but acknowledges that Mallory makes him happy. Mallory promises the weekends will stop.
When Jake shows up again a few weeks later, she reluctantly ignores him. Mallory thinks its best if he thinks this (standing him up) is Mallory’s decision, not because of Ursula’s instructions.
In 2020, Ursula and Jake are on the campaign trail when he gets the call from Link. Jake tells Ursula he’s going to see her, against her protests. When Bess hears Jake is going to Nantucket, she wants to go, too. Jake also sends an assistant, Avery Silver, on a task to find an acoustic guitar. At Mallory’s deathbed, he plays a song “My hardheaded woman” for Mallory.
The book ends with Link and Bess meeting, both of whom are studying political science. Link offers to show Bess the path to get to the beach.