I absolutely adore the way Jenny Han writes, and she has this awesome gift for re-creating what those awkward teen years feel like. Problem is, she does it too well and too realistically, and I always feel the compulsion to lick wounds that I thought had healed ages ago when I’m reading her stuff. Then I just smile, content in the knowledge that none of THAt will ever happen to me again, and settle in with the popcorn.
The Summer I turned Pretty is written in a very similar vein to her other series, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and I’m glad that I read them first because I went into this book with my hard-hat on, knowing damn well that Jenny Han likes to serve us a ‘Realistically Ever After’ instead of a HEA. Luckily for her, she knows how to frost these ugly truths (for e.g.: Boys lie, unattainable boys usually stay unattainable until they hit 21-ish, awesome best friends don’t exist for teenagers and good things only come to those who wait, wish and play the game like it’s chess etc etc) with lovely girlie things. Whether it’s a description of hair colour, a surge of sentiment or an idealistic summer home, Jenny H knows how to put the ‘Nawwww’ in ‘Girl’ (and yes there is one!) and true to form, she had me sucked in after the first few paragraphs. The way she describes return to her home away from home reminds me of how I felt when I was little, cracking open a Baby-Sitter’s Club Super Special, like the ones set in Sea City or Camp Mohawk, and made me pine for my own childhood days on Bucasia Beach. In Australia, summer homes are few and far between (and are usually tents in caravan parks NOT Victorian manors in cape Cod) but I was lucky enough to live in low-cost housing in a sleepy suburb where other people summered, so the things described are relatable to me. Only it wasn’t someone else’s mis-matched, second-hand bedroom built with old or thrift-store things that I was returning to, but the house I grew up in on a budget – and I love authors who find the romance in this stuff because it truly is there. In fact, Jenny Han’s books sort of are like the BSC, only with the annoying baby-sitting bits edited out.
In TSITP, the author delivers yet another angst-ridden love-triangle, which I am proud to say that I will always gorge myself upon. It’s a story about a girl who has been summering with the same family her entire life, but focuses primarily on the heroine’s interest in the son’s of her mother’s best friend, Jeremiah and Conrad. She’s always had a crush on the cooler, distant brother Conrad, when it’s as clear as the nose on Barbara’s face that Jeremiah’s the one who would gladly reciprocate her feelings. Neither boy has ever shown much interest in her before, but this is the last summer that they’re likely to spend together thanks to college and other big changes that are on the horizon, and it just so happens to be the first summer in which Belly is not only hot, but her protective big brother will be going away, leaving her with only the sexy boy-buds for company.
It’s a fantastic premise (for me and anyone else who spells Girl with a ‘nawwww’ in it) but unfortunately for me, I felt like the author sort of hit my thumb a couple of times instead of the nail on the head. For starters, another guy is introduced and though he should have made for excellent jealousy-bait, he sort of ends up monopolising way more of the story than his character can command, and those bits got a bit boring, so my attention waned a lot there.
Secondly, though I love the way Jenny Han writes LJ’s family into her other series, it doesn’t work the same way for me in this one. I feel pained for her real mother, and sad for her ‘pretend’ one, and completely lost as to what was going on with the adults mentioned, even though a huge chunk of the book is put aside for them. Then, when revelations come to light, they’re sort of reallllly depressing, so much so that you actually feel a chill coming on. Know when you have a great day planned at the beach- and then you feel the sunlight dim with an inevitable thunderstorm? Yeah, I had that feeling for a lot of this book and it sucked, ‘cos I wanted more suntan oil and nights on the boardwalk and smoochy’s and jealous outbursts. Nothing was playing out the way I’d hoped it would.
Thirdly- I wasn’t a huge fan of Belly. Oh sure she was cute and sweet and sentimental and relatable, but she wasn’t adorable or distinctive like Lara Jean in TATBILB, and I’m wondering if this is because the character LJ was easier for the author to relate to, given the Korean background and all. In fact, she could be downright whiny, and said and did a lot of things that although absolutely conceivable for a teenage girl, were sort of like selling out to me. I always loved the way that LJ (yes I know I keep coming back to Cubby but she rocked)
always toyed with the idea of playing games, but never actually did. Belly’s sort of the opposite, and it really got under my skin. Frankly, if I was a guy, I wouldn’t be into her either.
Now, if this is the point that the author was trying to make than I applaud her, and I really hope that Belly grows the hell up and gets her sassy on and soon, but until she does, I’m feeling a little disillusioned with her. I get why she has a major crush on Conrad, but so far, Jeremiah’s the one who’s sparkling for me and I really, really hope that some romantic time (SERIOUS romantic time not a whole bunch more of ‘almost’ moments) are given to each guy before the series conclusion- and I hope Belly earns them! I want to see all of the characters really evolve and get fascinating 🙂
Okay, I’m off to download the next one ‘cos I can’t help myself! And let’s pray that I get ‘this’ sort of moment by the end!