Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: Summer series

The Summer I Turned Pretty
By Jenny Han
Published 2009 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

It's Not Summer Without You
Published 2010 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

We'll Always Have Summer
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

For all of her life, Belly has spent her summers at Cousins Beach in the huge beach house she shares with her mother and brother, and her mother's best friend's family. But everything will change for Belly and her family in one summer.

These are not really the type of books I normally read and, honestly, this series was not on my radar at all. However, at my first ALA Annual conference, I received free finished copies of both the second and third book in the series. So, when I went on vacation this summer, it seemed like a good time to give the books a shot (I borrowed the first from my library).

I feel very conflicted about this series. There are a lot of things to dislike - first and foremost, a character named Belly (whose real name you don't find out until far too late in the story). This is not cute or endearing; it's annoying. Plus, there is the problem of Belly as a character - she is not a terribly easy young girl to identify with (or maybe my 10 years out of teenage-dom grant me the hope that I would have never identified with her). She is incredibly selfish and naive and, at times, far too simpering and whiny to be taken seriously. The boys of Cousins Beach are problematic as well - dark and brooding Conrad just adds to the list of entirely inappropriate romantic leads in young adult novels. And, aside from providing a foil to his brother, Jeremiah doesn't have much of a personality at all. My boyfriend read a short passage over my shoulder while I was reading and said, "So the whole thing is just about her deciding which brother she likes?" I stumbled and mumbled and tried to explain that there was other stuff going on (I won't spoil it for you) but really, he's right. Ultimately, these books are nothing more than summer romances with moody, troubled (and troublesome) boys and a girl who has zero confidence and is so naive that I can't help but feel embarrassed for her.

But, I have to admit that these books were pretty much exactly what I expected them to be. Summer reads - light, thoughtless, quick, easy. The writing is practical (which I'm not sure is a compliment) and, though Han tries to deal with some tough stuff, ultimately as my boyfriend said, it's a romance. I would not be surprised to find these books very popular with teen women.

I do want to make particular mention of book three - I feel like it is the least well-done of the three. I don't think the characters are making choices and behaving in ways that are in line with their characterization from the first two books. Also, I found the overall arc of this book a bit bothersome - this one is focused almost exclusively on the romance, and I don't find the romantic relationships that have developed to be in any way healthy. I also think the ending is a bit too neat and tidy for the series.

Thanks to the publisher for finished copies of It's Not Summer Without You and We'll Always Have Summer.

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