Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. (Grades 7-10.)

Every summer since before she was born, Belly's spent at the beach with her family and her mom's best friend's family. And she's always tagged along behind her older brother and Suzanne's boys, Jeremiah and Conrad. This summer will be different, Belly can feel it. She's turning sixteen, she's blossomed into a beautiful young lady, and she's determined to prove that she's not a kid anymore. But Belly's caught between wanting to grow up and wanting to cling to the past, and this will be a summer that transforms her more than she would ever predict.

Okay, let's get one thing straight: this is not a fluffy beach read. I know, the title and the pretty little font on the cover and the half-smiling models might have you thinking that this is going to be a light little romance for the beach. But it's not.

That's not to say The Summer I Turned Pretty doesn't have its light moments. And its romance. It has those things. But this is not a Yay-It's-summer-and-I'm-tanning-poolside kind of book. It's more of an End-of-summer-getting-back-to-reality kind of book. In my opinion, anyway.

One thing I liked about this book is that Belly felt so very real to me. She's fifteen, turning sixteen, and you get the story of her summer interspersed with flashbacks to previous summers at the same beach house. You get the stories of how she fell in love, how she's been in love with the same guy since she was 10 years old. You also get the sense that Belly's always been on the outside looking in.

During the summer, she's at the beach house with her older brother and two older boys. When she was younger, she wanted to join in their fun and they sometimes excluded her. Now that she's older, she just wants to be noticed. And she is noticed, but not always in the way she wants. The boys still seem to see her as the kid that bugged them every summer, tattling when they wouldn't let her play. What she comes to realize is that growing up means dealing with grown-up things. Though she thinks she's so ready to grow up, to drive, to date, to make her own decisions, Belly wavers on the brink of young-adulthood.

Before I read the book, I really disliked the cover. I heard so many compliments about it, but I just didn't get it. After I read the book, the cover makes a lot more sense. I love the position of the sun, like it's late afternoon and you're starting to think about the end of the day. I love that Belly's looking straight ahead, a kind of thoughtful expression on her face, while the boys' faces are both partially cut off or blocked.

It's a quiet kind of book, the kind I needed to sit with for a little bit to figure out exactly how I felt about it. If you're looking for something a little more serious than your usual summer fare, I can highly recommend The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Check out posts at MotherReader, Reading Rants!, The Compulsive Reader, and The Reading Zone (among others). Looking for some more summer reads to add to your pile? Jenny Han shares her top five YA must-reads (and I agree with all of them; I have Along for the Ride on my bookshelf waiting for me!).