Review: The Summer Series by Jenny Han
Last summer was unlike any other. It was truly an exceptional one. Despite COVID-19, I was desperate to keep the spirit of summer alive, in any way, because I look forward to summer all year. I wanted to get lost in a good, summer-y book that reminded me of what it’s like to have my feet sink and squish into the wet sand at the edge of the waves on a beach. So, I decided to give the “Summer” trilogy by Jenny Han a try because critics on Goodreads couldn’t stop raving about how amazing it is and I absolutely agree. I blew through all three books in 48 hours, so I understand why people find them so unputdownable—there’s just something about these books that make you want to keep on reading.
In the first book, titled The Summer I Turned Pretty, Isabelle “Belly” Conklin returns with her mother and brother, Laurel and Steven, to Cousins Beach, where her mom’s lifelong best friend, Susannah owns a beach house. It is important to note that Belly has spent every summer of her life in Cousins Beach with Susannah and her 2 sons, Conrad, her oldest son, and Jeremiah, her youngest son. Now that Belly’s older and—as the title implies—prettier, she’s hoping to capture the attention of her life-long crush, Conrad, and is excited to reconnect with her best friend, Jeremiah.
“I wished for Conrad on every birthday, every shooting star, every lost eyelash, every penny in a fountain was dedicated to that one boy.”
One of the most wonderful things about this trilogy is that it feels like a warm blanket on a cold, winter night. Being trapped at home this summer, these books made me nostalgic of the great memories of last summer and the ones before that. One of my favorite aspects of The Summer I Turned Pretty are the flashbacks relating the backstory and dynamics between the characters. We see them as kids each summer and how the dynamics between these “summer friends” evolved. Being the youngest, Belly is always hoping to be included with the boys, but often finding herself left out, pining away for Conrad.
“The thing was, Jeremiah was right. I did love Conrad. I knew the exact moment it became real too. Conrad got up early to make a special belated Father’s Day breakfast, only Mr. Fisher hadn’t been able to come down the night before. He wasn’t there the next morning the way he was supposed to be. Conrad cooked anyway, and he was thirteen and a terrible cook, but we all ate it. Watching him serving rubbery eggs, burnt strips of bacon and pretending not to be sad, I thought to myself, I will love this boy forever.”
And this is the point at which I’m morally obligated to disclose something about the series: there’s a love triangle. It’s not a typical love triangle, because Belly shared very different connections with Conrad and Jeremiah. It can be justified because of the trio’s long history together. They watched each other grow up from children searching for seashells on the beach to teenagers going on their first dates. The difference in Belly’s relationships with Jeremiah and Conrad is quite interesting, and I found myself quite torn—especially in the first book—over who I thought was the best boy for her.
On another note, Belly’s relationship with Susannah was one of the most heart-warming aspects of the trilogy. Susannah often referred to Belly as “the daughter she never had.” She played a vital role in shaping Belly into the young woman she becomes in the end of the series. There is also an interesting story of the evolution of Belly’s relationship with her best friend, Taylor, which continues over the series.
Some dramatic and extremely tragic events take place in the first book, although I am not at liberty to reveal those because this is a review! But what I can say with full certainty is that The Summer I Turned Pretty flawlessly sets the stage for the next two books.
The next book, It’s Not Summer Without You, picks up the following summer, and no one’s heading to the beach house. This would be Belly’s first summer away from Cousins Beach.
“For me, it was almost like winter didn’t count. Summer was what mattered. My whole life was measured in summers.”
Someone vital in the lives of the characters has passed away over the winter and everyone was drowning in their sorrow. Belly is home, trying to spend her summer with Taylor, craving the beach house and the boys with every breath when she gets a call from Jeremiah saying Conrad is missing. Soon, all three of them find themselves back at the beach house where it all began, navigating through challenges of what would be their last summer together at the beach house.
The series is mostly narrated from Belly’s perspective, but in the second book, we also get a few chapters from Jeremiah’s point of view, which I felt was a wonderful addition.
“When I was near Belly, I just wanted to grab her and hold her and kiss the life out of her. Maybe then she’d finally forget about my jerk of a brother.”
Jeremiah’s point of view helped me gain a better understanding of his entire family much more, which would not be possible from Belly’s oft-immature eyes. That said, however, the downside of including Jeremiah’s point-of-view is that in the third book, I was incredibly critical of his character development, as I felt like it didn’t meld with what I’d learned about him throughout the first two books.
The second book was much more plot-heavy than the first, filled with dramatic elements. I found many of Belly’s choices a bit baffling and at time incongruous with what I knew of her character—it felt like some of her decisions were in service of heightening the plot’s drama and not to develop Belly’s character as she navigates growing up into a young woman.
The final book of the series flashes forward a couple years, and Belly is now engaged to one of the brothers, but the complicacy of the trio’s relationship remains more heightened than ever.
In We’ll Always Have Summer, we have a few chapters from Conrad’s point-of-view, and I am so, so grateful for that. In the first two novels he seems excessively broody and a bit of a mystery but finally getting inside his head brings a lot of necessary clarity that justifies his actions and behaviors.
“My dad always used to say that with everything in life, there’s a game-changing moment. The one moment everything else hinges upon, but you hardly ever know it at the time.”
As much as I enjoyed Conrad’s point of view, I was extremely aggravated by the devolution of Jeremiah’s character. The boy that I had grown to love over the last two books, was now a person I no longer recognized. His new “I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-anyone-but-myself” attitude disgusted me. His decisions and behaviour was baffling to me and I found myself favouring Conrad in every situation.
Belly’s decisions and thought process in this book also made me doubt she was a college student, a full-grown adult. Her decision to get engaged was rash and she went against her loved ones, who did not support her decision to commit to an immature relationship for a lifetime. She distanced herself from her close friends and family because they attempted to talk sense into her, thus damaging all her life-long relationships for the sake of one incredibly toxic relationship.
Despite my frustrations with some of the main character’s decisions, I loved the way this book ended. It tied up all loose ends and most importantly, Belly made up her mind and ended up with the brother that was meant for her all along. In my opinion, she picked the perfect guy and I could really see how much she had matured into a wonderful, strong, young woman.
“I go wherever you go,’ he says, launching us into the water. This is our start. This is the moment it becomes real. We are married. We are infinite. Me and him. The first boy I ever slow danced with, ever cried over. Ever loved.”
This series is my comfort, go-to series and it never fails to plaster the widest smile on my face. I strongly recommend these books to anyone, and even if you’re not into this particular genre, you will fall in love with this series! And if you’re wondering which brother is my favourite, it’s Conrad 😉Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest