Sunday, August 18, 2013
The Summer I Turned Pretty - Jenny Han
Goodreads: Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer--they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god!
Ok here's the thing. I 100% expected to strongly dislike this, but I keep seeing it places so I thought I'd give it a try. I mean the cover tells me I should expect a love triangle and stupid boy stuff, as does the back cover description (also what exactly is everything in between brother figure and crush if I might ask?). And I can't say that doesn't happen, but the love triangle stuff isn't really a main or strong point of the book. And I expected to hate Conrad because he's the stupid broody boy the main character likes for absolutely no reason. And I just...agghhh I was so shocked!
I liked this WAY MORE THAN I EXPECTED TO. I am still having difficulty coming to terms with it. It should be everything I don't like in YA fiction, but it's just...it's so much like how you feel when you are 16! Everything feels confusing and complicated (and you always want the boy you can't get). You also hit a stage where suddenly everyone finds you attractive and it feels strange and you never really trust that this isn't some trick someone is pulling. Or at least that was how it was for me when I turned 15, and my experience with boys before and after was very much like Belly's experience (except the boys weren't family friends).
Everything I expected to hate was still there, but it was somehow forgivable because of HOW it was written. There's just something perfect about the way Han writes the story. It really was like I was transported back to to the summer I turned pretty (See what I did there. Eh? Ehhhhh?). It's the interest in boys all of a sudden, the body image issues, and everything seems like such a big deal all the time! It was so much more about growing up than it was about romance, and I don't know how to explain that because so much of the book was romance. So I'm going to give up on that and you're just going to have to trust me on it.
There were things I didn't want to like about this book - for example girl friendships. I hate that the majority of books I read are about frenemies. In fact the only books that come to mind about girls with AWESOME friendships are Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Finding Cassie Crazy (aka The Year of Secret Assignments). I get that girl relationships are weird and complicated and there's usually some sort of feeling of inadequacy and it's a delicate balance. Han nailed that. I just wish there was more showing the good part of that relationship too. And we catch glimpses of it, but as with other YA contemporary books, it's more bad than good. Part of it is that Belly's relationship with her bff Taylor isn't like her mother's relationship with Susannah. And I so wish I had a best friend like that, closer than a sister even. I have AWESOME best friends, but it's not like that.
I also think that Belly can be a very hard character to like at times. She can be an annoying tattle tale and has a tendency to whine, but I appreciate that she is a flawed character, with plenty to like as well. It's incredible how easily I related to her though. I know exactly what it feels like to be with family friends (or really any number of groups of people) and be the only girl or the only one my age, and you feel so left out. It makes you feel like you have to compete for attention and you always feel unsettled and excluded. And it makes you feel jealous and angry and you hate that you feel that way...that's what I'm talking about. Han just really, really gets it. And I think it is really hard to write slice of life YA where it doesn't get overly dramatic (also instalove. It needs to stop), but still captures the...bigness of how everything fels. The insecurity about how to measure up to others - intelligence, looks, how sexually experienced you are - whether you've gone too far or not far enough. I think that the way Han deals with this lets me forgive her for the love triangle. Because there's also BIG life issues in the book (and I will not tell you about them because it will spoil a lot of things). And somehow Belly's interest in the angsty Conrad is also forgivable. I mean I could see it as instalove, except that you are given snippets throughout her life. And he's not often nice, but I've also been there. I think part of the reason I forgive it is that she's known him her entire life. (Speaking of the snippets, I was really confused for the first 250 pages because all of a sudden it'd be a completely different time. Turns out it says what age she was right under the chapter header and it took me 3/4 of the book to figure this out (idiot). So when you do read this, and you should, read that part too or you'll be confused like me).
And the ending - OH MY GOD I was totally not expecting that! Oh the feels!! And whatever you think it is I am talking about, trust me you are so, so wrong.
I feel like this review isn't giving a great impression of the book (or rather it's just that I'm completely incoherent). It really does have everything I hate in a book, but I LOVED IT - it is just done in all the right ways. It's not even that it was a fun fluffy read. It wasn't at all, it was angsty and distressing - but just enough so that you wanted to keep reading. Ugh I just can't stop raving about just how SHOCKED I was about the whole book, but especially the ending and how perfectly the story was captured. I kinda wish it stopped there, but it's a series. Which I am expecting to hate. Even though I was taken aback by this book...I don't trust to like this for more than this one book. I will say that I'm not sure if I'm giving it better than chocolate pudding rating because I loved it so much or because I was shocked so much (but be reassured that it would get an almost as good as chocolate pudding rating at the very least even if I wasn't so shocked)
My feelings directly after reading this? Check my comment on Mad but Magic's blog (which you should totally read btw, their blog is AWESOME).
Words clearly don't exist to explain my emotions on reading this book. So I will leave you with this: