Book review: ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ by Jenny Han

Belly is ready for a fantastic summer. Gathering at the house she’s shared with her mom and brother at Cousins Beach since childhood, lazy days and dips in the pool seem like all that lies ahead of her. 

But a chance for relaxation isn’t all that’s on her mind — it’s the ability to catch up with her other housemates that makes her summers memorable. Along with their mother, brothers Jeremiah and Conrad have arrived at Cousins with their unique ways of making Belly feel special. A friend from the start, Jeremiah is the best buddy with whom she loves to carouse. But it’s dark, brooding and older Conrad that has always captured Belly’s attention — and this year, she’s not just another kid at the beach. This year, she’s grown up.

Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty is an engaging coming-of-age story that definitely captures the essence of our favorite season. As someone who has visited the exact same beach house with her extended family for more than a decade, I completely related to Belly’s attachment to the home she knows by heart. The easy, breezy and relaxing feel of a day at the beach pulses in Han’s novel, but it’s too flip to declare this book a “summer read.”

The emotional pull of this novel — and the series, I’m guessing — stems from Belly’s ties to everyone in Cousins. Susanna is the boys’ mother and her own mother’s best friend — a woman who balances out the dynamic. Susanna is ethereal, serene and warm; Belly’s own mom, divorced from Belly’s father, is the dark to her light. And Susanna is like a second mother to Belly, a young woman grappling with always coming in second. I loved watching their bond grow stronger.

Told in flashes between summers past and present, The Summer I Turned Pretty well captured the joy and pain of first love — and those crushes that just won’t quit. I really empathized with Belly and fell a little in love with Conrad, too, even though his bad-boy act did eventually grow stale. It was easy to admire Belly’s backbone, and the way she stood up against a house full of young men — no one, not even her brother, could push her around. Though she’s many things, Belly isn’t used to being “pretty” — especially not standing next to Taylor, her gorgeous and flirty best friend. That’s what separates this summer from all the others. And that’s a feeling I related to well.

Though the language was, at times, a little too sparse for my taste — a little too deadpan; a little too simplistic — it didn’t hamper the emotional impact of Belly’s budding relationships and the changes happening as she turns sixteen. I read this one quickly and felt the cool breeze on my face, imagining myself wandering through the sound and huddling close to beach bonfires as the temperatures drop at night. As my own beach vacation looms before me, I wouldn’t have wanted to read anything else.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062011839 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

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13 thoughts on “Book review: ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ by Jenny Han

  1. I’ve yet to read any of Jenny Han’s books. She’s writing a series with Siobhan Vivian, though, and I LOVE Siobhan Vivian, so I’ll certainly be reading those.

    • Good question, Bill — and I should have addressed that in my review. Han transitioned between past and present in alternating chapters and, while I did think it worked well overall, there were a few times that the chapters felt herky-jerky.

      I definitely liked the present more than the past and could relate to 16-year-old Jenny more than 12-year-old Jenny, though I felt both were necessary to the story’s power. We had to understand where she came from to know where she was going.

  2. Great review, Meg! This series is absolutely one of my favorites! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I loved the flashbacks and the descriptions of the beach. This book always gets me in the mood for summer!

  3. I’ve heard good things about Jenny Han’s books, I’ll have to keep this one in mind if I’m looking for a lighter coming of age read!

  4. Great review Meg! I’m so happy you enjoyed this one. It’s my favorite of the series, by far, though book 2 and 3 are also nice reads.

  5. Yay! I’ve fallen in love with Jenny Han! So happy you’re loving her too 🙂 I’m “in line” at the library, waiting for book #3 to come in and I just can’t wait!!!

  6. i personally liked the book. it confused me however why conrad would even consider smoking when his mother had cancer…

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