This is the second book in a three-book series.
May contain spoilers.
Where once Belly looked forward to summer with breathless anticipation, nothing is the same this year. After the death of Susannah, her mother’s best friend and Belly’s second mother, a dark pall has been cast over the warm weather months. Susannah’s teen sons have struggled to move forward, but Conrad and Jeremiah haven’t easily dealt with the death of their mother. And now the house at Cousins Beach, the cozy place they once shared with Belly and Laurel and Steven, is empty.
As Belly spends her summer days mindlessly drifting at home with Taylor, her hometown best friend, she doesn’t expect to get a call from Jeremiah — or to learn that Conrad has gone AWOL from his freshman year of college. As Jeremiah and Belly reunite to search for him, Belly must confront the feelings she once had — for both boys.
Jenny Han’s It’s Not Summer Without You, sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty, is the sort of lovely, atmospheric book in which I love to get lost for hours. Han’s Cousins Beach reminds me so much of my own summers sharing a beach house with my extended family, and that’s exactly why I waited to read this one on our annual vacation in the Outer Banks.
I wasn’t disappointed. Though It’s Not Summer Without You is really a quiet sort of novel, it’s impossible not to get absorbed in Belly’s world. I related to her intense feelings of first love that is tinged with grief — and that pain is only broadened by the loss of Conrad (as a boyfriend) and Susannah (completely, irrevocably — dead after battling cancer). Though Belly is so young, she has to deal with so much heartbreak. Though I wished more than anything she wouldn’t treat her own mother so poorly, I didn’t fault her for her behavior.
Not a lot happens in these books, but that’s really not a problem for me. Han wastes no words in setting her scenes, giving us flashbacks of Belly and Conrad’s doomed relationship while still staying rooted in the present. The evolution of our narrator’s feelings was very well-drawn and moving, and I felt like I’d really gotten inside Belly’s heart by the close of the story. And was I overjoyed with the resolution? Yes.
These books are about first love and family — the one we’re born into and the one we choose. Though romance is a key part of Belly’s life and the narrative arc, it’s not the sole focus of Han’s novels. The characters are dimensional, interesting and very flawed — and I could almost see a prequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty telling the story Susannah and Laurel’s friendship. Their bond, even after death, is irrevocably strong.
Han’s Summer series is almost universally beloved — and I can see why. Eloquent, heartwrenching and perfect for the summer season, It’s Not Summer Without You is another win by a talented author.
4 out of 5!