Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the first two in this three-book series, this post will contain spoilers for the previous two — but not this one.
The final book in Jenny Han’s much-loved Summer series peeked at me from my bookcase for more than a year, waiting for the moment — the warm, sun-baked moment — when I would finally throw it in my beach bag. Determined to finish the books at my own beloved beach house, I finally read We’ll Always Have Summer in the Outer Banks this year. And I cried.
Oy, these books. Gut-wrenching.
Considering I’m a sucker for anything relating to those tender, tantalizing days of first love, Han’s series seems tailor-made for me. In the final installment, years have passed since Susannah’s death — and the Conklin and Fisher families have scattered. While Belly and Jeremiah are wrapping up another year of college, Conrad has fled to the West Coast. Though everyone tries to soldier on in Susannah’s absence, they miss her — and their carefree summers at Cousins Beach — terribly.
While Belly still nurses a quiet love for Conrad, her relationship with Jeremiah has blossomed. Inseparable at the college they both attend, life seems perfect — or as close to perfect — as it can be . . . until an indiscretion threatens to separate them. When Jeremiah makes an impulsive declaration, life careens in an unexpected direction. Belly attempts to throw herself into a new life with Jeremiah, but she can’t shake the feeling that she’s uniting herself with the wrong Fisher brother . . .
And oh, angst. Drama. Tears. An epic love triangle.
I love these books.
Han once said that fictional Cousins Beach is a “not a real beach, but it’s sort of based on Cape Cod and also the Hamptons. And just a splash of the Outer Banks!”
Allow me to speak for every reader ever and declare, I want to go there.
Spending more than a few minutes in Belly’s Summer world, it’s not hard to conjure the best days you’ve ever spent along a sandy shore. Despite their often heavy subject matter, there’s something so light and free about Han’s stories — and that’s why I couldn’t wait to fall into her work again in June. I waited almost a year to learn what became of Belly, Jeremiah and Conrad. That is some self-control, my friends.
We’ll Always Have Summer brings us an older, more mature Belly — but she’s just as undecided about Conrad and Jeremiah as ever. Her first love is and will always be Conrad, but the affection she feels for Jeremiah seems to trump those feelings. She tries valiantly to forget the brief time she spent as Conrad’s more-than-friend, which seemed more dream than reality . . . but Belly can’t escape the way she felt (and still feels?) for him.
Other readers have complained that Jeremiah and Conrad did a “flip-flop” of personalities in this final book. While Conrad was always the broody one who couldn’t make up his mind, Jeremiah was the constant in Belly’s life: loyal, sweet and endearing. When Conrad acted like a jerk, it was Jeremiah who swooped in to comfort her. Conrad was the “bad boy” of the Fishers — the one who would ultimately break Belly’s heart. “So what’s with Han doing a 180, then?” others cry. To which I say: they changed. Jeremiah got older, started hanging around with his fraternity brothers, started acting like . . . a college guy. And Conrad, always the more serious of the two, went in a different direction. Just when Jere starts acting like a clown, Conrad gets his act together. It’s a pretty big role reversal, yes, but it made sense to me. Given where they were in life and what they were after, I got it.
By the end of this book, I was thumping my fingers against the text and begging Belly to make the right decision and crying at the pain on Conrad’s face and wishing everyone would just stop being so incredibly stupid. In this final narrative, we’re finally given access to the deep passages of Conrad’s mind — which was a real delight. Like getting the long-awaited key to a very complicated puzzle. But I wanted to shove him into action, too.
Just as in The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You, Belly’s story flips between the past and present. Though it took a bit of getting used to, I’m very accustomed to her style now — and I really like it. I genuinely didn’t know where Belly was headed or which way she would sway, which made the read very suspenseful . . . almost to the point that I had to flip ahead to learn what she would decide. I forced myself to stay in the moment, though, and didn’t spoil it for myself.
And now I’m sad it’s over, of course. I long for it to be summer again. Perhaps Han will humor us and write a “Where are they now?” follow-up a few years on?
4.5 out of 5!