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The Summer I Turned Pretty


The Summer I Turned Pretty

It’s that time of year --- teens are putting away their textbooks and calculators, unpacking their bikinis and suntan lotion, and heading for the beach. Many high school and college students would say that they live for the summer, but 15-year-old Isabel (nicknamed Belly) really means it. As long as she can remember, she, her mother and her older brother Steven have spent the summer on the beach with her mother’s best friend, Susannah, and Susannah’s two sons. “For me, it was almost like winter didn’t count,” Belly reflects. “Summer was what mattered. My whole life was measured in summers. Like I don’t really begin living until June, until I’m at that beach, in that house.”

Belly starts the summer she turns 16 with the same air of excitement with which she has approached all the others. She can’t wait to see Jeremiah and Conrad again, to head to the beach for parties, to swim midnight laps in the pool, to eat Susannah’s terrific cooking. But as soon as she arrives at the beach house, she knows something is different. Part of it is her; Susannah notes that Belly has “blossomed” since the previous summer, and Belly wonders if it’s just her imagination, or if Jeremiah and Conrad’s brotherly teasing has gained a new flirtatiousness.

Belly has loved Susannah’s older son Conrad as long as she can remember. Dark, aloof and brooding, he has all the makings of a romantic anti-hero. But this summer, Conrad is downright distant, even cold, as he shuts himself into his room when he’s not busy smoking and drinking too much. Meanwhile, Conrad’s younger brother Jeremiah, Belly’s best friend, suddenly seems awkward around her. Is it possible that this boy, who has always been like a brother to her, is harboring a secret crush of his own?

This intriguing love triangle gains an extra dimension when Belly finds her first real boyfriend, a clean-living Latin scholar named Cam, whose very existence seems to add unexpected tension to Belly’s relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah. There are plenty of secrets to go around; even the normally sunny Susannah is hiding a secret that will change everything even more.

Perhaps because she recognizes that nothing --- not even her usual idyllic summers --- will ever be the same again, Belly frequently reflects on the summers of her past, the ones where her changeable relationships with Jeremiah and Conrad grew stronger and sometimes stranger. A carnival prize, a favorite song, a first kiss --- recalling these pivotal moments from previous summers illustrates how the friends got to where they are today and demonstrates the kind of magical promise and possibility inherent in the summers of one’s youth.

THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY is just the first in a projected trilogy that will continue to explore the changing fortunes and complex personalities of these closely intertwined characters. The surprising shift at the novel’s close will ensure that readers, like Belly, will spend lots of time longing for the next summer chapter in her life.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 5, 2009

The Summer I Turned Pretty
by Jenny Han

  • Publication Date: April 6, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416968296
  • ISBN-13: 9781416968290