“The Summer I Turned Pretty” is a coming-of-age novel by Jenny Han that revolves around a teenage girl named Belly Conklin who spends her summers at Cousins Beach with her mother’s best friend’s family, the Fishers.
Published in 2009, the book is an exploration of adolescent love and the perils of the times when you are just about to enter adulthood.
The Summer I Turned Pretty Summary
The Fisher family includes two boys, Conrad and Jeremiah, with whom Belly has had a unique and evolving relationship. This particular summer, however, things are different: Belly has matured, and the boys start seeing her in a new light.
The book explores the complications of adolescent love, friendship, and the pain of growing up. It delves into Belly’s longstanding crush on the older brother, Conrad, her platonic yet deep friendship with Jeremiah, and the complications that arise when another boy, Cam, comes into the picture. Belly’s relationships with the boys are set against the backdrop of both her family’s and the Fishers’ struggles, including marital difficulties and serious illness.
Throughout the summer, Belly grapples with her feelings, both new and old, as she navigates through the tricky waters of young love, friendship, and loss. The novel culminates in a heart-wrenching revelation about Susannah Fisher, Belly’s mother’s best friend, that brings everything into perspective.
As the summer ends, Belly is left with poignant realizations about love, life, and the inevitability of change.
As a reader, The Summer I Turned Pretty proved to be a beautiful and emotionally charged rollercoaster.
Han’s narrative gently unravels an evocative story of youth, love, and the inevitable pains of growing up, all set against the idyllic backdrop of the summer spent at Cousins Beach.
Belly Conklin, the protagonist, is a well-etched character that many readers, including myself, can identify with.
Her transformation from a carefree child to a young woman dealing with the complexities of first love and the bittersweet reality of change resonated deeply with me.
Her lifelong crush on Conrad, her platonic bond with Jeremiah, and her brief fling with Cam add multiple layers to the narrative, each helping Belly to explore her own feelings and identity.
As I read the book, Belly’s mixed emotions, confusion, and earnest yearnings struck a chord that took me back to my own teenage years.
The setting, Cousins Beach, serves almost as another character.
Han beautifully captures the nostalgia and charm of long, lazy summer days spent in a beach house. The palpable sense of change hanging over this particular summer made me reflect on the transient nature of youth and the inevitable approach of adulthood.
Another strength of the book lies in its sensitive handling of mature themes such as illness and divorce.
The subplot concerning Susannah’s terminal illness added a heartbreaking but essential layer to the narrative. It heightened the sense of urgency and fleeting moments, making the reader acutely aware of the value of time.
The way Belly’s parent’s divorce is represented and how it impacts Belly’s perspective on relationships is also commendable.
Although I must say that Belly’s flip-flopping between Conrad and Jeremiah became a bit tiresome, and her inability to see the emotional turmoil she was causing felt unrealistic given her otherwise empathetic nature.
Irrespective of that, while Han excels in creating an immersive, sensory experience of the beach and summer life, at times the pacing was a bit slow. Certain subplots, like Belly’s relationship with Cam, felt a little underdeveloped and seemed to detract from the central narrative.
Despite these minor qualms, the book is a compelling coming-of-age story that encapsulates the rollercoaster ride of adolescence.
The combination of love, friendship, loss, and the inevitable transformation that comes with growing up makes it a read worth investing in.
The ending left me eager to see where Belly’s journey would lead her next, and I found myself looking forward to the sequel.
And soon enough, I am going to review the sequel as well.
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1. Relationships transform with time
The evolution of relationships as we grow older and navigate the complex emotions are well talked about in the novel.
For instance, Belly’s relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah shift from a sibling-like bond to romantic interests over the course of the summer.
The complex dynamics that emerge as Belly grapples with her changing feelings toward the brothers highlight the necessity of self-discovery and reflection in navigating relationships.
For example, Belly’s relationship with Conrad starts as a childhood crush, evolves into a complicated friendship, and then turns into something more profound. At the same time, Belly also discovers that her feelings for Jeremiah, once purely platonic, have deepened into a romantic attraction.
The plot emphasizes the importance of recognizing these changes within oneself and managing them responsibly, as they have profound impacts on one’s interpersonal dynamics.
2. Coping with Grief and the Impermanence of Life
A crucial theme in the book is dealing with life’s impermanence and the grief that often accompanies it.
The looming death of Susannah, a central character in the narrative, brings a tragic but inevitable aspect of life to the forefront: that life and the relationships we cherish are fleeting and must be valued.
Her terminal illness casts a shadow over the characters’ summer, changing the dynamics between them and bringing up difficult conversations about death, grief, and letting go.
The revelation of Susannah’s condition and her subsequent decision to forgo treatment teach the characters, and by extension, the readers, that it is essential to appreciate the present and those around us, understanding that they may not always be there.
3. The Complexity of Feelings and Emotional Maturity
Another vital lesson drawn from the book revolves around understanding the complex nature of feelings and achieving emotional maturity.
As Belly navigates her changing feelings for Conrad and Jeremiah, she finds herself in situations that require her to grapple with jealousy, insecurity, and confusion. Her relationship with Cam, primarily driven by the need to incite jealousy in Conrad, ultimately ends because Cam feels Belly is still in love with Conrad.
This event serves as a wake-up call for Belly to recognize and understand her feelings. The experience teaches readers the importance of emotional honesty and maturity.
Using others to elicit reactions or to satisfy emotional needs can lead to hurt and misunderstandings, underlining the importance of emotional maturity in relationships.
If you’re in the mood for a nostalgia-filled read that explores the poignancy and heartache of growing up, then The Summer I Turned Pretty should certainly be on your list.
But for those who like larger than life elements, this is not for you. The book is simple, honest and cute.
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