There's something irresistible about summer books in the summertime; about reading a story that's set on the beach while you're actually basking in the afternoon sun. So with a sunny day mine for the taking, I picked up Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty - a book that seems to have enchanted nearly ever reader I know.
Fifteen year old Isabel - a.k.a. Belly, unfortunately - has spent every summer of her life at Cousins Beach with her mother and big brother Steven at the beach house of the Fisher family: her mom's best friend Susannah and her sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Despite her adoration for the Fisher boys, Belly has always been a little bit left out as the only girl, but those moments when she's connected with them have been treasured highlights. Her summers there are everything to her. She's always loved seemingly out-of-her-league Conrad, the oldest of the two brothers, although she did share her first kiss with the younger and more amiable Jeremiah. This year, with her sixteenth birthday looming, she has a third love interest in the form of endearingly geeky Cam. Over the course of the story, the reader is kept guessing about which boy - if any - she'll end up with at the close of the summer.
Although this may sound like your average summer romance, it soon becomes clear that this is a story with substance. As Belly gets her first taste of what it's like for the boys to notice her - not just any boys, but these boys, the ones she's always wanted - the tension rises around her, but maybe not for the reasons she thinks. And though this is a book about one girl's flirtation with three boys in the course of one summer, it's all in the spirit of discovery and genuine connection. It's a journey. Belly has always felt that she's just waiting for summer to arrive, but if this is the last of the summers these people will share at Cousins Beach like this, what comes next? Who will she be?
The Summer I Turned Pretty is written with a sense of memory so strong that you can almost taste it; so tangible that all the summers before seem to echo in this place, this summer. Narrator Belly speaks with a laidback but intimate voice that at times tells the reader rather more than she is noticing herself, as she switches between the present and events of previous summers spent at an idyllic beach house with everyone who matters most to her. Belly's awareness that this one is likely to be the last that all of them spend there lends the tale a nostalgic flavour, even as events unfold in the here and now, that heightens every emotion. It's a tale of heart-bursting joy, the bittersweetness of first love, and the heavy weight of an approaching loss.
I picked up The Summer I Turned Pretty expecting a sweet romance I could lose myself in for an afternoon, reading outside in the sunshine. I got that and so much more; a poignant coming-of-age story that speaks eloquently and honestly of everything you find and lose in growing up. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I got a new favourite book. Maybe you will too.
Out: now, UK and US.