Belly, her mother and her brother have been spending summers at a beach house with her mother’s best friend and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah, since Belly was a baby. In the past, she’s always felt left out – too female and too young to be an equal participant in the boys’ fun – but this year things are different. This year, she’s pretty. With Conrad looking at her differently, will she finally get the boy she’s been in love with since childhood, or will she find that her feelings have changed?
The major strength of The Summer I Turned Pretty is its feel. Reading it, you really find yourself immersed in a sense of summertime. You can almost taste the salt water of the beach or the chlorine of the backyard pool, and it was a great book to read in the middle of the Australian winter because of that
Han’s portrayal of several of her minor characters is also good. Susannah and Laurel, the two mothers, are three-dimensional women with histories that go back long before they became parents and Jeremiah and Steven feel like realistic teenage boys, while still remaining likeable. Conrad, however, is so thinly drawn that it was impossible for me to see what Belly saw in him.
For me, however, the big issue was Belly herself. She’s shallow, immature for her age and extraordinarily self-centred. This probably makes her a realistic character, but it doesn’t make her a particularly likeable one. Her attitude towards both of her parents is callous and cold and her treatment of Cam is not much better.
I also didn’t appreciate the premise, in that it’s tied so heavily to appearances. It’s obvious that Belly hasn’t changed at all in terms of character – the many flashbacks show us that she’s not grown much as a person since she was ten – so all of the changes in her life are tied to her being “pretty” now. Pretty, in the book, seems to involve being thin, wearing a D-cup, getting your braces off and replacing contacts with glasses. It’s certainly not about prettiness of character.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is a light read best suited for public transport or a summer holiday. It’s the first in a series that has a lot of fans, so if it seems like your thing, don’t let my own lack of enthusiasm put you off.