“We’ll Always Have Summer,” the concluding novel of Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy, weaves a tale of love and choices around Isabel “Belly” Conklin, a young woman entangled in the complexities of romance and familial ties.
The story opens with Belly, now a college freshman, eagerly anticipating another idyllic summer at Cousins Beach with her childhood friend and current boyfriend, Jeremiah Fisher.
Their relationship, deep-rooted in shared history and affection, seems destined for permanence. Belly, who has always harbored a dream of becoming a Fisher, feels this dream inching closer to reality.
However, the summer takes an unexpected turn when Belly discovers Jeremiah’s infidelity. Struggling with heartache and betrayal, she grapples with her feelings but is taken aback when Jeremiah proposes marriage.
Torn between her desire to salvage their relationship and doubts about Jeremiah’s sincerity, Belly accepts his proposal, albeit with reservations.
As wedding plans commence, Belly’s dilemma intensifies with the presence of Conrad Fisher, Jeremiah’s brother and her first love. Conrad’s arrival at Cousins Beach stirs old emotions, reminding Belly of their deep, yet unresolved past.
Through chapters that alternate between Belly and Conrad’s perspectives, readers delve into their complex emotions and the unspoken truths that linger between them.
The narrative reaches a crescendo as Belly, caught in a whirlwind of wedding preparations and unresolved feelings, finds herself increasingly drawn to Conrad.
Conrad, despite his lingering love for Belly, is bound by a promise to his late mother to protect Jeremiah, adding layers of guilt and conflict to his emotions.
The story unfolds with a series of revelations and confrontations, culminating in a dramatic climax where Belly must confront the truth of her heart. As secrets unravel and tensions mount, Belly faces the ultimate decision: to marry Jeremiah and fulfill her long-held dream or to embrace her enduring love for Conrad.
In a touching epilogue, Belly’s journey comes full circle. Her path, marked by growth, self-discovery, and the bittersweet realities of first love and familial bonds, leads her to a future where she finds contentment and a sense of completeness.
Jenny Han masterfully crafts a narrative that resonates with the joys and pains of young love, the weight of decisions, and the enduring power of deep connections.
Isabel “Belly” Conklin
Belly’s story is a poignant journey of love, growth, and self-discovery. Caught in a love triangle with Conrad and Jeremiah, her lifelong loves, Belly’s emotions are reignited for Conrad, yet she grapples with the impact her choices have on their intertwined families, especially after Susannah’s passing.
Despite the pull towards Conrad, she shows remarkable growth by considering the broader consequences.
Her relationship with Jeremiah, although deep, ends in mutual recognition of their love not being destined for eternity. Eventually, Belly reunites with Conrad, her first love, culminating in a marriage that represents her journey coming full circle.
Conrad’s character is defined by his internal struggle and inability to express his true feelings. Throughout the series, his aloofness and internal turmoil, especially after his mother’s death, lead to a strained relationship with Belly.
His love for her is deep yet often unspoken, causing him to inadvertently push her towards Jeremiah.
Conrad’s eventual vulnerability and open confession of love to Belly, although late, signifies his growth. His willingness to risk for love and be emotionally open transforms him, leading to a rekindled romance and eventual marriage to Belly.
Jeremiah, the younger Fisher brother and Belly’s fiancé, is characterized by his immaturity and struggle with commitment.
His proposal to Belly, following his infidelity, is tinged with insecurity about her past with Conrad. Jeremiah’s character often swings between wanting a deep commitment with Belly and longing for his carefree college days.
His realization that he is Belly’s second choice and his inability to live with that fact bring a poignant truth to their relationship, leading to their eventual breakup.
Laurel, Belly’s mother, plays a crucial role as a voice of reason and emotional support. Her initial disapproval of Belly’s decision to marry Jeremiah showcases her protective nature and deep understanding of her daughter.
Her bond with Conrad is also significant, providing him a safe space to express his grief and love for Belly.
Laurel’s presence is a constant reminder of the depth and complexity of family dynamics and maternal love.
1. The Tension Between First Love and Growth
Central to the narrative is the theme of first love, embodied in Belly’s relationships with the Fisher brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah.
This theme delves into the nostalgia and intensity of first love and its enduring impact on individuals. Belly’s journey is a poignant exploration of how first love can shape and define us, often lingering in our hearts as a benchmark for all subsequent relationships.
However, Han juxtaposes this with the concept of growth and change. As Belly matures from a teenager into a young adult, her evolving perspectives and experiences bring into question the permanence of first love.
The novel thoughtfully presents the idea that while first love is a significant part of our past, growth often necessitates moving beyond these initial intense emotions to embrace more mature, informed forms of love.
2. The Complexities of Familial Relationships and Expectations
The story intricately weaves the dynamics of familial relationships, particularly focusing on the expectations and bonds within the Fisher family.
Belly’s dream of becoming a part of this family highlights the fatal need and sometimes the idealization of being integrated into a seemingly perfect family unit.
The novel scrutinizes this idealization through the lens of Belly’s interactions and conflicts with both Jeremiah and Conrad. It reveals how familial expectations and obligations can complicate personal desires and relationships, as seen in Conrad’s struggle between his feelings for Belly and his promise to his late mother.
This theme underscores the often challenging but crucial balance between maintaining familial bonds and pursuing individual happiness.
3. The Journey of Self-Discovery and Making Difficult Choices
Han masterfully portrays Belly’s journey of self-discovery, marked by difficult choices that define her path to adulthood.
The novel emphasizes the importance of making decisions that are true to one’s self, even when they conflict with the expectations of others or with preconceived notions of happiness.
Belly’s eventual realization and decision at the climax of the story serve as a testament to the empowering process of understanding oneself and making choices that align with one’s own values and desires.
This theme resonates with the universal experience of growing up, where the journey often involves navigating complex emotions, relationships, and societal pressures to find one’s true self.
“We’ll Always Have Summer” is a testament to the journey of the heart, a journey that sometimes takes us back to where we started, richer for the experiences that shape us.
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