Coming-of-age novels are something I have admired for a long. However, in my experience, many of them aren’t worthy of your investment – minutes and money both. At the same time, some novels are more than just amazing… almost spell-bounding. Without passing any judgement right at the beginning, let’s dive deep into this novel – Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty. It is a coming-of-age young adult novel that delicately explores themes of love, friendship, self-discovery, and the bittersweet nature of growing up. The storyline is set against the backdrop of idyllic summers at the beach, and the novel follows the story of Isabel “Belly” Conklin as she navigates her fifteenth summer, a season that marks a significant turning point in her life. Well, any guesses, readers? Let’s find out if you are right! 🙂
Story of the novel The Summer I Turned Pretty:
The Summer I Turned Pretty follows the story of Isabel “Belly” Conklin, who spends every summer at the beach house with the Fisher family, her longtime family friends. As Belly enters her fifteenth summer, she becomes aware of her changing feelings for the Fisher brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly’s feelings are especially inclined towards Conrad. As the summer unfolds, Belly finds herself caught in a love triangle between Conrad and Jeremiah, leading to internal conflicts and heartbreaks. The novel explores the complexities of love and friendship as Belly navigates her emotions, grapples with self-perception and body image, and ultimately undergoes a journey of self-discovery and personal growth during that transformative summer.
Critical Commentary on Themes, Plot and the Novel as a Whole:
The novel’s strength lies in its portrayal of complex relationships and the evolution of characters. Belly’s dynamic with her long-time family friends, the Fisher brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah, forms the central focus of the narrative. The Fisher family’s beach house has been the summer destination for Belly’s family for as long as she can remember. The story unfolds through flashbacks and present-day events, providing insight into their shared history and deep connections. The set-up and the style might be convenient for readers who can extract the actual story from a set of offerings with mixed menus – the past and the present. This form, however, might be problematic for readers who like to read straightforward stories.
It is remarkable to note, nevertheless, that throughout the book, the author skillfully brings out the dynamics between the characters, making them feel real and relatable. Belly’s bond with Conrad, the brooding and mysterious older brother, is filled with unspoken emotions and hidden longings. In contrast, her friendship with Jeremiah is playful, and light-hearted, and serves as a source of comfort and laughter. Han beautifully captures the essence of summer relationships and portrays the complications that arise when childhood friendships teeter on the edge of turning into something more. The story brings forth the changing dynamics of human longings, as mentioned earlier, as we tend to understand we have those. Through the perspectives of Conrad and Belly, readers can understand what growing up can do to us if we aren’t properly schooled and have someone we can rely on as a confidant!
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The book also explores the theme of self-perception and body image. And the book does it emphatically! Belly, once considered a little sister by the Fisher brothers, suddenly finds herself garnering attention and admiration from boys as she transitions into her summer before her sophomore year of high school. This newfound attention results in a mix of emotions for Belly, as she grapples with how others see her, and, more importantly, how she sees herself. The author poignantly conveys Belly’s inner struggles, capturing the insecurities and uncertainties that many teenagers face as they transition into young adulthood. These instances may be helpful for readers who are facing such issues. The author has made it very apparent so that readers can use it as a self-help work of literature. Though it might sound a little confusing, the narrative is indeed like a comforting exchange of words that might help teenagers realise what they undergo during the transformation years. And therefore, Belly’s character transformation throughout the novel is something that many young readers may find inspirational. As she learns to embrace her true self and confront her insecurities, she becomes a more empowered and self-aware individual, setting an example of personal growth and resilience for teenage readers.
Furthermore, it is also important to note Han’s vivid and evocative descriptions of the beach setting that might transport the reader to a place of warm sand, crashing waves, and lazy summer afternoons. If you care to look at it from a critical angle, the beach serves as a metaphorical backdrop for the novel’s themes, representing the ebb and flow of life and relationships. The soothing atmosphere of the beach acts as a contrast to the emotional turbulence that the characters experience, making it a perfect setting to explore the complexities of growing up. The vivid imagery of the beach finds adequate support from the perfectly worded conversations. And yet, the author has taken special care that the novel’s narrative doesn’t become too much for teen and young adult readers.
Now, let’s face it as it sounds. I am likely to pronounce this work as not suitable for readers over 40… or those who have many other things to take care of and then, find some literature to read. The Summer I Turned Pretty with all the positives and inspirational details it has, is a novel that is likely to resonate with its target audience – young adults. Though it is highly unfair on my part to believe that readers other than the target audience should be a benchmark to judge a novel, it seldom offers something! The themes of first love, friendship, and self-discovery are universal to teenagers, making the novel relatable and emotionally engaging. The novel’s exploration of young love, especially the conflicts and heartbreaks that come with it, will strike a chord with readers who are experiencing or have experienced similar situations in their lives.
However, it is essential to note that some aspects of the novel may not appeal to all readers. The love triangle trope, common in young adult fiction, might be polarising for some, as it tends to provoke strong opinions on which character should be the ultimate choice for the protagonist. Additionally, the story’s slower pace and introspective nature might not suit readers who prefer action-packed plots. It was something that might be ignored, but should not be. Since Jenny Han is writing for young adults, the pace of the narrative should be taken care of! And the author has, dare I say, made it a little difficult for readers other than easily influenced ones a little difficult to navigate through the introspective phases of the novel.
In conclusion, Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty is a well-written coming-of-age novel that captures the essence of summer, love, and growing up. Though there are loopholes in the narrative because of its nature and pace, the novel may sound good to its target readers. With its heartfelt exploration of relationships and personal growth, the book has been a trend among teens and young adult readers. As for its criticism, the novel may not be a good and suitable work for all… even within the defined target audience. While some may find its pace leisurely and the love triangle clichéd, experienced readers of such works might guess everything before they appear. As an overall assessment, let me tell my opinion freely – I found the work a good one-time read which could have been better…
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Review by Ashish for ReadByCritics
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: Book Review
It is an exploration of first love, heartbreaks and self-discovery. Though the ambit is limited, the novelist has outscored its limitations on many fronts. However, the novel does have its shiny limitations that limit the engagement – pace, prolonged introspections and the overall generic progression.