Sunny Hostin’s ‘Summer On Highland Beach’ Celebrates Black Womens’ Sacrifices

Photo Credit: Jeff Lipsky/ABC

Sunny Hostin ended her second novel on a staggering cliffhanger. The beach read follows a young woman named Olivia Jones, who is learning the truth about her family. Just when she thought she had it all figured out, life threw her yet another curve ball. She learned she was related to a Black icon.  

Access to familial history is a privilege for marginalized people. Hostin wanted to harness its power. “We must be our own grios of our own stories and learn as much as we can about where we came from,” she tells ESSENCE. “I write these books to let people know that we have a legacy of Black excellence.”

“Our history is being erased intentionally and this is the history that I think we need to know about,” she added.  

Learning she is a descendant of a great leader inspires Olivia Jones. It also burdens her. She has her privacy invaded by strangers who feel entitled to judge her. Sunny could empathize with Olivia. As a mom who routinely courts the attention of millions on The View, her family has faced unwanted attention.  

“We are living our lives, publicly, many by choice, but some of us not by choice. So when you are surveilled, and your picture is taken, I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” says Hostin. “I just sort of wanted to put that little Easter egg in there so that people could just once in a while. Take a step back and think, do I really need to post this picture? Do I really need to do this? How harmful can this be?”

From political scandals to rap beefs, Black women often bear the brunt of the sacrifices endured for men’s greatness. Hostin intentionally highlights this historical trope. She kept the work of women like Black Voters Matter co-founder Latasha Brown in mind. “They don’t do it for pay necessarily. They don’t do it for fame. They do it for the good of the family or the good of the community,” she says. “She’s like driving and sometimes at her own expense, a big bus with her partner Cliff and, and they are going around the country to protect our vote. It’s a thankless job, and it’s almost an invisible job.”

Hostin incorporated the story of a real historical figure who endured judgment and shaming when she married a man some considered too far above her station. “I wanted people to know her story and also the story of so many Black women that are invisible that do the work,” she explains.

That invisible work can weigh heavily on the mind. “I wanted to explore this theme of mental health because I’ve been speaking to Taraji P. Henson about it. I’ve been speaking to some other friends about it, and in our community in particular, it’s been so stigmatized, and finally, finally, we’re talking about it,” Hostin says. “I wanted us as a community to embrace mental health just like we’ve embraced people that have diabetes and, and in our community, and people that have heart issues in our community and maternal health issues.”

Sunny Hostin’s ‘Summer On Highland Beach’ Celebrates Black Womens’ Sacrifices

She wanted to praise women without bashing men. The novel takes care to pay homage to the contributions of Black men who put family above all else. “That is a theme that’s very important to me that we have great men in our lives,” adds Hostin.  

As a soon-to-be empty nester, Hostin penned stories of lineage inspired by the maturation of her own family line. “I was fortunate enough to just do my Finding Your Roots episode,” she says. “I learned so many things about my family that I had no idea about.”

She thought of her ancestor who risked the wrath of the KKK to vote nine times despite being warned when writing raucous Highland Beach debate scenes. She admires how he shows up in her obsession with voting. “My family members make fun of me because I vote for anything! I’ll vote for constable, I’ll vote for the student council,” she says with a laugh.  

Olivia’s character encounters an overbearing relative whose tenacity Hostin does not admire. The character takes over her children’s lives, trying to control everything about them to the point of smothering them. Her form of protection can be poisonous. Hostin is not into that parenting route. 

“The prophet says they come from you, but they really go through you,” she states. “You can’t control everything; you have to give them the tools that they need, and then you have to let them fly. So, I’m about to become an empty nester. So part of that was, you know, me realizing, listen, I’ve got to let these kids go.”

The poignant subject matter does not stop the book from being as scandalous and sexy as its predecessors. Summer on Highland Beach has plenty of romance and glamor tucked into its political commentary. There are enough high-end labels and star-crossed lovers to hook any book enthusiast.  

Not big on page-turning? There’s an alternative headed your way. The Summer On trilogy will soon be coming to streaming with the help of Hostin’s producing partner, Octavia Spencer.

Hostin is looking forward to sharing the story’s impact with more of the world. There’s potential to go beyond the story of Olivia Jones due to the many connections the characters have, but there are no plans for that yet. She’s allowing the reader to tell her if she should expand the world further or step away from the shores.

“I want to take a breath and see if I’ve met everyone’s expectations, and if I have, then my work is done.”

Summer on Highland Beach is now available where books are sold.

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