The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han is about a young girl, Belly (Isabelle) who spends every summer at a beach house with her mother and brother (Steven), her mother’s best friend (Susannah) and her two sons (Conrad and Jeremiah). The three older boys have left her out of things for years but this year things are different. She’s fifteen and feeling pretty, pretty enough to finally attract the attention of one of the brothers. There are other things that are different as well and, as truths are revealed, Bella faces some things about herself and those she loves.
Okay. Anyone who knows my taste in novels can probably guess I did not choose this novel of my own accord. It I the first of the young adult summer reading novels that was selected by Iggi & Gabi. What can I say? There is nothing about this novel—from the cover image to the title to the summary—that would commend this novel to my liking. It is well written. In fact, I think it is very well written. Han does a lovely job of weaving flashbacks throughout the novel that help lend meaning to the contemporary part of the story. The big secret to be revealed is hardly surprising and the denouement was terribly disappointing to me. I had hoped for something less typical, maybe even something unexpected. In other words, I hoped it would end the way I hoped it would and not the way I suspected it would.
Oh well. Clearly I can’t win them all. The gist of the novel is: Who will Belly choose? Will it be the older brother Conrad, belligerent and moody? Will it be Jeremiah, the younger and sweet brother? Or will it be someone else? (I’ll leave you to decide what I would have preferred for Belly because those who know me will easily guess anyway.)
I found one aspect of this novel ironically distasteful. Susannah has had cancer and through most of the novel we read time and time again how the narrator is sunbathing, working on her tan, so dark she’s the color of toffee. I think it’s safe to say that the author realizes that sunbathing is directly linked with melanoma (skin cancer) and this left a distaste in my mouth that I did not expect. I think that if the mother’s friend had not been living through having breast cancer, I would have sighed and rolled my eyes in disappointment as the narrator baked her way into health hazards but I wouldn’t have found it . . . well, rather vulgar. The kind of poor taste that leaves me feeling sad about what young adults read.
Let me now reiterate that Han is a good story teller and the narrator’s voice is very strong. As Belly tells the story, the memories are interwoven with a surprising seamlessness. The reader never wonders why some element of the story is being shared because it all fits so perfectly together. So well written but disappointing novel. One I would prefer my daughter not have read when she was a young adult and I hope my granddaughter doesn’t read when she is old enough to do so.
(I look forward to the day when pale skin is considered beautiful once again and we stop brainwashing young girls into thinking that their natural skin tone is anything but lovely.)