By: Puffin Books
Every year Isabel spends a perfect summer at her family friends’ house. There’s the swimming pool at night, the private stretch of sandy beach - and the two boys.
Conrad – unavailable, aloof - who she’s been in love with forever. Jeremiah – friendly, relaxed - the only one who’s ever really paid her any attention.
But this year something is different. They seem to have noticed her for the first time. It’s going to be an amazing summer...and one she’ll never forget.
Confession: I'm a sucker for YA novels that are set in summer beach houses. Talk about a teenage dream - a house right on the sand, hanging out on the boardwalk, a cute boy winning you a stuffed animal, swimming, beach bonfire parties (I've always wanted to go to one of those!). I love reading about this stuff and imagining that I too, am having this idyllic experience. The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of these novels and sets its story in exactly that summer/beach wonderland.
Isabel (who everyone calls Belly) and her family spend every summer in the beach house of her mother's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly has crushed on Conrad all her life, but as the youngest and the only girl, the boys have always treated her dismissively and left her out. This summer, however, is the summer right before Belly turns sixteen and she has grown up and filled out and suddenly, the boys are paying a lot more attention to her.
In Belly, Jenny Han has created an exceptionally realistic 15 year-old girl and by that I mean, she is often whiny, over-emotional and self-absorbed. Her narrative voice is full of teenage angst with a capital A; every word, every look, every touch, is obsessed over. I have to point this out because I know it might irritate some adult readers of YA. But for my part, I found Han's writing to be so charming and so true-to-life, that I found myself completely sucked in and reliving my teenage feelings. I think Han really captures how aware you are of yourself at that age and and how self-conscious you feel. This novel totally takes you back to your teen self and you will want to shake Belly sometimes, just as you wish you could go back in time and shake yourself then. But if you're like me, you'll take her to your heart.
I found Belly's relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah to also ring true. They're used to teasing her, but now everything between them has a heavier meaning. Conrad is that guy; the one who ignores you and is mean to you, but then turns around and does something sweet, stoking your crush all over again. I wanted Belly to forget about him and go for a boy who didn't mess with her mind so much - and yet, I knew I would be exactly the same in her position: swooning hard for the wrong guy.
As well as the current summer, the novel flashbacks to previous summers, giving more detail and depth to Belly's life. This is done in random order (Belly at 14, then 11, then 14 again), so it's sometimes confusing keeping track of where you are in the space/time continuum, but it's not too big of a problem. It's not all about boys, either - Belly also deals with her distance from her mother, her preference for Susannah and friction with her best frenemy, Taylor. Again, these issues and relationships all felt very authentic. I think the only thing in this novel that I didn't buy was that a girl with a lovely name like Isabel, allows everyone to call her Belly! I think a real-life Belly really would have insisted on a prettier and more mature nickname by now. It is discussed in the book that Belly doesn't like other shortened versions of her name, but I still think she can come up with something better than 'Belly'.
So. If you get frustrated by angsty teenage drama, then this might not be the book for you. However, if you want a book that takes you back and makes you feel fifteen again, then you should pick up The Summer I Turned Pretty right now and relive it all - all the stuff that made you smile, made you pout, made you cringe, made you melt - but this time, with a bonus summer beach house.
Rating: 4 stars