Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: It's Not Summer Without You

Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
This review includes spoilers for The Summer I Turned Pretty, the first book of Jenny Han's Summer series.

A lot has happened to Belly and her summer boys since we last saw them. Belly and her one true love, Conrad, had a sort-of romance that ended badly. More importantly, however, Susannah's cancer killed her. So this summer, there's no Cousin's Beach and Belly's spending her time enduring best-friend Taylor's attempts to help her "get over" Conrad and come back to the land of the living. But Belly isn't just mourning her relationship with Conrad, but also Susannah, the woman she used to wish was her own mother. And when Jeremiah calls out of the blue, telling Belly that Conrad's skipped out on his summer classes to bum around at the beach house, she immediately joins him in bringing Conrad back. But Conrad's actions are more complex and this summer of loss is more complicated than Belly could have expected.

Unlike the first book in the series, this one isn't narrated solely by Belly; there are also short chapters narrated by Jeremiah, which was surprising, but allowed for a greater understanding of these characters and their world. For the first time we see - from one of the brother's POV - the feelings that Jeremiah has for Belly and, in a small way, the way that the rest of the characters view her. While in the first book Belly often comes across as whiny and sometimes babyish, it's clear that she's matured in the months that have passed. Though there's a part of her (a large part, sure) that wants to get Conrad back and is still hopelessly in love with him, she's at the summer house more to help and support the boys than anything else. The loss of her unique relationship with Susannah has hurt and changed her, which we see here when she repeatedly steps up to the plate to help her summer family despite the complex and often hurtful emotions under the surface. Belly is no longer the baby, and she's no longer playing catch-up.

The things that were great in the first novel - the setting and crisp emotions - are just as great here. There's a sense of nostalgia and bittersweet longing as Belly, Jeremiah, and Conrad come together despite the past. Belly's relationships and personality is more rounded-out now that her best friend, Taylor, is a bigger part of the story and we get to see a larger part of her life. While I would have expected this to dull the impact of Belly's emotions, it instead serves to highlight them and even make them more understandable. We now have a history with Belly and her summer family, which makes it so much easier to understand her complex, obsessive feelings when it comes to the boys, especially Conrad. Jeremiah's narration adds another level to this novel; now we have not only what Belly thinks and feels, but also Jeremiah. It makes things clearer and adds to the complexity and emotional intensity of the ongoing story.

In the first book, I always felt that there was something of a disconnect between the characters and the reader; in this book, that disconnect is gone. Now we know these characters and their world; it's not foreign or strange, and it's so much easier to fall into the story, fall in step with Belly and Jeremiah as they head off to rescue Conrad from his own self-destructive behavior.

It's no secret that I often have problems with sequels or series, especially in the contemporary genre. But this one? Not only is it a worthy successor to The Summer I Turned Pretty, but it makes for a completely emotional and engrossing ongoing story. When I read the first book I didn't quite understand why it was being written as the start of a series instead of a stand-alone, but now that I've read the second one I'm amazed by how well the series works. It's brilliant and I'm so excited to read the third and last book. As for the love triangle aspect of the series, I think it's painful and emotional, but also really beautiful and true to the characters and their world. Han has written such believable and heart-aching dynamics that it seems completely reasonable and somewhat unavoidable to have a love triangle emerge.


  1. I enjoyed the first one and am excited to get to the rest. I'm glad to hear Belly has grown up. Her attitude in the first was pretty annoying.

  2. Jenny
    It was. I thought her attitude in the first one was realistic, but that doesn't change the fact that it was annoying. She's so much better in the second book IMO. I hope you read it! And the last! I love this series. (My review of the third book will be up SOON!)