Series Review: The "Summer Series" by Jenny Han

Series Review: The "Summer Series" by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that I’ve been reading as many summery novels as I can find. Naturally, I had to check out Jenny Han’s popular “Summer” books about three teenagers who spend each summer together at a beach house. 

I realize I’m probably the last person on the planet to read this series, and I blew through all three books in 24 hours, so I understand why people find them so unputdownable—there’s just something about these books that make you want to keep on reading. 

(Incidentally, since this is a series review, I’m going to be intentionally vague, so as to not ruin the books.)

In the first book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, Belly (Isabelle) returns with her mother and brother to Cousins Beach, where their family friends own a beach house. Now that she’s older, and as the title implies, prettier, she’s hoping to capture the attention of her long-term crush, Conrad, the eldest son of her mom’s best friend, Susannah. She’s also excited to reconnect with her good friend, Conrad’s younger brother, Jeremiah. 

I’d nursed a crush on Conrad for whole school years. I could survive for months, years, on a crush. It was like food. It could sustain me. If Conrad was mine, there was no way I’d break up with him over a summer—or a school year, for that matter.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the novel in the series I connected with the most.

One of the wonderful things about the Summer books is that they feel very timeless. A lot of books featuring teen characters read in a way that I often wonder if they’ll be dated rather quickly. These books, and particularly the first one, made me feel nostalgic for summer fun as a teenager (and I hated being a teenager!). While I never was so lucky as to spend entire summers at the beach (that’s pretty much my dream), the sense of summer, where the days drift away amidst sun and sand was really wonderful. 

I was sitting on the La-Z-Boy reading Emma—mostly because I thought it made me look smart, not really because I enjoyed it. If I was reading for real, I would be locked in my room with Flowers in the Attic or something and not Jane Austen.

One of my favorite aspects of The Summer I Turned Pretty are the flashbacks relating the backstory and dynamics between the characters. We see them as kids each summer and how the dynamics between these “summer friends” evolved. Being the youngest, Belly is always hoping to be included with the boys, but often finding herself left out, pining away for Conrad. 

And this is the point at which I’m morally obligated to disclose something about the Summer books: there’s a love triangle.

It’s a different sort of love triangle, because Belly has quite different connections with Jeremiah and Conrad. And, it makes some sense because of the trio’s long shared history. And, it’s actually very well-executed. The difference in Belly’s relationship with Jeremiah versus with Conrad is quite interesting, and I found myself quite torn—especially in the first book—over who I thought was the best boy for her. 

On an entirely different front, Belly’s relationship with Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother, Susannah, was one of my favorite stories in The Summer I Turned Pretty—she’s the adult Belly needs at this time in her life and I think their relationship is one that is pretty authentic and relatable. And, there is an interesting story of the evolution of Belly’s relationship with her best friend, which continues over the series. 

“Please don’t be mad, Belly. I want things to stay the same with us forever,” Taylor said, brown eyes brimming with tears. What she really meant was, I want you to stay the same forever while I grow bigger breasts and quit violin and kiss your brother.

Some pretty dramatic and life-changing events happen over the course of The Summer I Turned Pretty, which sets the stage for the events of the two books that follow. This is one of the stronger first-in-a-series books I’ve read, there’s a lot of story here and it’s not just back-story for the rest of the series (one of my pet peeves). 

The next book, It’s Not Summer Without You, picks up the following summer, and no one’s heading to the beach house at Cousins Beach. Belly is deeply missing her summer friends and when Jeremiah calls, saying that his brother is missing and they all find themselves back at the beach house, things are complicated as the three of them negotiate what will be their last summer together. 

In the second installment, we get a few chapters from Jeremiah’s point-of-view, and I felt like that was a wonderful addition.

When I was near her, I just wanted to grab her and hold her and kiss the shit out of her. Maybe then she’d finally forget about my asshole of a brother.

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

It helped me understand his entire family much more, since we don’t just see them through Belly’s oft-immature eyes. With that said, however, the downside of including Jeremiah’s point-of-view is that in the third book, I was incredibly critical of his character development, as I felt like it didn’t meld with what I’d learned about him in the second novel.

Also, the second novel is far more plot-heavy than The Summer I Turned Pretty, and since I’m a character first sort of gal, I found some of Belly’s choices a bit baffling and at time incongruous with what I knew of her character—it felt like some of her decisions were in service of heightening the plot’s drama and not to develop Belly’s character as she navigates growing up. 

I didn’t want to make the same mistakes my parents made. I didn’t want my love to fade away one day like an old scar. I wanted it to burn forever.

The final installment of the Summer series flashes forward several years and Belly is engaged to one of the brothers, but the complicated relationships between the trio continues.

In We’ll Always Have Summer, we have a few chapters from Conrad’s point-of-view, and I am so, so grateful for that. In the first two novels he seems excessively broody and a bit frustrating, but finally getting inside his head brings a lot of necessary clarity.

The promises you make on your mother’s deathbed are promises that are absolute; they’re titanium. There’s no way you’re breaking them. I promised my mother that I would take care of my brother. That I would look after him. I kept my word. I did it the best way I could. By leaving. I might have been a fuckup and a failure and a disappointment, but I wasn’t a liar. 

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

However, as much as I enjoyed taking a look at the story from Conrad’s perspective, I was extremely aggravated by the devolution of Jeremiah’s character. The boy that I was so charmed by is completely different in the final book in the series, and I never really understood why. It simply conflicted with what I knew about him form the first two books, particularly in the second with chapters from his point-of-view.

Belly also draws some lines around herself that made me not really believe her as a 19-20 year-old college student. Her relationship with the boy she’s engaged to is very high school (not that there aren’t immature people that age, but, again, it didn’t make sense from what I learned in the previous two books). 

I realize that the “why” of a lot of these characters’ actions is simply to ensure that the plot twists and turns in particular directions, ensuring an emotional roller coaster throughout the series conclusion, but I just hate when that’s done in sacrifice of character growth. 

It’s a known fact that in life, you can’t have everything. In my heart I knew I loved them both, as much as it is possible to love two people at the same time. Conrad and I were linked, we would always be linked. That wasn’t something I could do away with. I knew that now—that love wasn’t something you could do away with, no matter how hard you tried.

Despite my frustrations with the final book (though it did have the resolution that I’d hoped and avoided the resolution I’d feared, thanks to the epilogue in It’s Not Summer Without You), I do recommend this series to anyone looking for a satisfying summer read. (It reminded me most of Jennifer Echols’ The Boys Next Door—both are fluffy and plot-heavy, but still are engaging and emotional reads.) If I’d written this series review immediately after finishing the trilogy, I would have raved about the last book too. It was only after contemplating the niggling feeling in the back of my head that something didn’t quite work in the final book in the trilogy, that I was bothered by the path these characters followed to get to the resolution I wanted.

The first book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, is only $3.99 in ebook form right now, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking for an engaging read.

FNL Character Rating: Lyla Garrity

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