The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty  - Jenny Han My rating should be 2 1/2 stars, but I bumped it to a full 3. While at times I thought I was really going to like this book, in the end my reaction to it is ambivalent. I didn't hate it but I certainly didn't love it. And since I feel in no way compelled to read the two books that follow as sequels, I guess that says a lot.

Belly has spent every summer of her life at Cousins Beach with her mother, her older brother Steve, her mother's best friend Susannah, and Susannah's two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. As far as Belly in concerned, the nine months out of the year that she lives at home are simply wasted days and time killers until she can return to the beach. She's always been in love with Conrad, but it's only now that she feels mature enough that he might actually see her as something more than a little sister.

While I absolutely love the premise of this story, several aspects didn't work for me.

First of all, Han chose to tell the story in a mixture of real-time flow and flashback, and often I was confused of how old Belly was supposed to be at any given moment. I did eventually discover that the flashback chapters had an age label to help me out, but it wasn't until I was two thirds into the book that I was able to peg the various characters' ages. To help anyone else out, this is what I got: Belly is 15 and a sophomore in high school, Jeremiah is 16 and a junior, Steven is 17 and a senior, and Conrad is 18 and off to college.

My other big issue is the object of Belly's obsession. As the boy she's loved practically her entire life, Conrad sure came off as a big jerk. Granted, he's dealing with some big time life issues, but even in flashbacks I never saw why Belly found Conrad to be all that. He teased her mercilessly, he never treated her as more than a little sister, and he just generally wasn't all that nice.

In fact, Belly spends much of the story feeling left out - because she was the only girl, because she was the youngest, for whatever reasons, it was always the three boys going off to have adventures and fun and leaving Belly behind. I couldn't quite understand why her perception of summers at the beach were pure Heaven - she never seemed to be having any fun at all.

I suppose that is one thing Han did well - communicate how our minds sometimes convince us that one thing is true when actual facts point to the opposite. In Belly's mind, the boys and Cousins Beach are her Utopia, all she wants out of life. But when looking at the reality, there are a lot of flaws in her perfection.

In the story, Belly meets a nice guy named Cam, and her treatment of him was borderline at best. As it so often happens, you wonder why she can't be happy with the nice, great guy who likes her but instead wants the moody jerk who treats her like crap. I do think Han did a masterful job of showing what it's like to be a young girl who is fixated on one guy to the point of ignoring the realities around her.

From the beginning of the story, and based on the jacket cover blurbs, you expect something of a love triangle between Belly, Jeremiah and Conrad. Through the entire book, Belly makes it clear that her feelings are for Conrad. Jeremiah comes off as a good buddy and treats her like a sister, then out of the blue, he seems to have developed romantic feelings for her. This whole revelation comes a day late and a dime short to provide any sense of love-triangle-suspense, and it seems out of left field when it happens.

Finally, we are told time and again by Belly that her relationship with Susannah, her mother's best friend, is as close as can be - nearly mother/daughter. Yet other than a couple of interactions, I just never saw that closeness. Simply too much tell and not enough show for me to buy it.

In the end, I wanted to like this more than I did. The ending is very abrupt and leaves a lot of loose ends. Yet, as I stated before, I have no desire at all to know what happens. Unfortunately, Belly's magical Beach World exists only in her brain and therefore doesn't compel me to spend any time there.