The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han


This is a random YA read that I picked up, because I like to read YA when I’m brain dead.  And, well, with a toddler and an infant who wants to nurse every two hours…I’ve been brain dead. And looking for something to read in the wee sleepless hours of the morning. Something other than websites that tell me what I am doing wrong that is causing my sleepless child/gassy baby/fussy screamer to drive me bonkers (answer: nothing. He’s a baby. They are inscrutable and kind of sucky. Also, the Internet is a terrible place to seek advice unless you want to slowly be driven mad and insecure. But I digress).

Where was I?

Oh yes – The Summer I Turned Pretty.  Or,  the summer i turned pretty, which is what the cover actually gives as the title.

The first of a trilogy (more on that later), this book is about the coming of age of a young girl.  I’ve always been fascinated by coming of age books because, well, I was a young girl who came of age at one point. At least, I think I have because teen lit tells me that there is a lot of soul searching and high drama involved and I recollect having both those things in my life at one point (not always at the same time).  Also, I am in my late thirties and if I haven’t come of age yet, then I don’t know when it’s going to happen and what age exactly I am supposed to be coming to.

In this book, as I was saying, Belly (short for Isabel and somewhat, but not quite, reminiscent of Twilight) returns with her mom and older brother (Stephen) to their usual summer haunt, a cottage that they have shared with their mother’s best friend, Beck, and her two boys, Conrad and Jeremiah, since forever.  Belly has always been the tag along baby sister…but not this summer.  *This* summer she is, well, pretty.  And she has resolved that “the boys” are going to see her in a different light and she’s finally going to get the attention of her childhood love, moody-broody Conrad. What she hasn’t bargained for is the confusion and heartache caused by unwanted (or is it?) attentiveness from happy-uncomplicated Jeremiah, who has always been her friend.

In other words the book (and series) falls victim to what I am going to call the Guinevere Complex, i.e. yet another book where a beautiful young female thing is torn between the attentions of two equally compelling but fundamentally different boy-men who are either best friends/brothers/arch enemies/frienemies.  Was it Shakespeare who said there is nothing new under the sun?  Certainly, there is nothing new in this plot.

Some other well-known YA Guinevere plots include Twilight (obviously), The Hunger Games and  The SelectionLet’s face it: love triangles don’t go out of style.  And, apparently, they are huge money makers.  And I’ve only touched the surface of the YA love triangle lists (of which there are several – Google it if you don’t believe me).

There is, mind you, real-life drama incorporated into the love triangle plot, so that Belly can have something Real to deal with.  I’m not going to give it away, though (not even in the tags), because that would be telling.

And what about the rest of the trilogy?  I did kind of read it’s not summer with you and we’ll always have summer.  I had to.  I had to know who Belly ended up marrying – Conrad, her one true love?  Or Jere, her other true love?  Did someone die or go on a lifelong quest to forget her, so that they could conveniently be out of the way?  How did it all Go Down?  I’m not saying.  You’ll have to read the books to see.  Just be warned – there is a lot of drama.  You may not have the patience for it.  I didn’t.  In fact, I am not able to review the other two books fairly because I didn’t read them through – I skipped to the end to see what happened, and then flipped backwards to see how.

Rating: Um.  B-.  In retrospect.  But I think that a pre-teen or teen reading it might find it rings true to their experience and/or presages years of exciting dramatic moments, and enjoy it.  For them, it might be a B.  But it is in no way a classic, like Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret or I Capture the Castle (which is stupendous and which I adore and which manages to avoid every possible pitfall).

Reading Ages: 12-15.  Maybe even older, for someone looking for fluff reading.  I read the Sweet Valley High series as a kid (although not so much as a teen), and this is better.

Love Triangles I Prefer: Actual Guinevere scenarios, mind you, where each member is tortured, not things like The English Patient, which is just two people in love and one person who is not included.  Hm, this is tough. Guy Gavriel Kay’s take on the Guinevere story  in The Fionavar Tapestry series always comes to mind, but it’s more of a clever retelling.  Casablanca would fit if Rick and Laszlo had  relationship…and if it was a book.

Have I ever Come of Age?: If by “coming of age” you mean “going through a period of unnecessarily dramatic moments punctuated by heart rending internal struggles, all of which I diarized”, then the answer is Yes.

Do I really think such drama is unnecessary?: Unnecessary, yes.  Unavoidable, no.  Lack of emotional maturity combined with hormones places most people squarely on the the path to melodramatic life experiences.  Truth?  I am nostalgic for a time when my world view was of Life as an Epic Starring *Me*.  Now that I have two kids, I often wish that my life could be called my own.


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