The daughter of my boyfriend’s friend lent me this novel. We were talking about books, and she told me this one was her favorite. It’s not my usual taste in young adult literature. Actually, I’m not sure what my usual taste is, but it’s not this. However, I wanted to read The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han with an open mind. For all I knew at the time, this book could be my new favorite book. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
The novel’s premise revolves around Belly’s stay at a Cousins Beach. It’s a place she and her family are invited to every summer. The beach house belongs to their Mother’s best friend, Susannah, who invites them to join her and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Although there are subplots to this story, the central part of this book revolves around Belly “turning pretty,” and suddenly receiving male attention. However, the only attention she really wants is from Conrad, who is still uninterested.
In other words, this book revolves around the notion that a women’s worth is solely based on her appearance. There is one entire chapter dedicated to Susannah praising Belly’s appearance because she is “so pretty.” Susannah’s exact words, “You’re so pretty. So pretty. You’re going to have an amazing summer. It’ll be the summer you’ll never forget” (21). So remember ladies the only way to have an amazing summer is to be “so pretty.” I get it. It’s in the title. I just hate the way this notion is reinforced over and over again in the book.
In all honesty, I really wish the book would have ended with Belly realizing her worth as a person, and how she is more than just her looks; maybe, it’s just too much to ask for in a young adult novel. If it ended that way, she can still choose someone. I think it should have been no one. I mean, look at her choices: Jeremiah is the stereotypical “nice guy.” The boy who treats women like people. Therefore, he is entitled to her affection. Then, there’s Conrad. The bad boy with the heart of gold that nobody, except the main character, understands. Aww…poor Conrad. All the character’s bitch about the way Belly’s always pouting, but Conrad deserves first place in that department. Lastly, there’s Cam the boy who liked her before she was beautiful. Despite his stereotypical role, he was the only character I could really tolerate. But, I guess, when you’re sixteen these choices can seem enticing.
The biggest problem I had with this book is toward the end. There’s a scene where Conrad and Belly get into a fight. It gets pretty heated, but here is where I draw the line.
“Conrad stepped closer to me, so close our face were nearly touching, like he might either hit me or kiss me…I almost wished he’d hit me…He grabbed my arms and shook me, and he let me go just suddenly. I could feel tears building up for a second there, I thought he might” (247).
Is this really what we are going to teach young girls? To romanticize domestic violence, or even worse confuse it with love. Yes, I am skipping over some lines where she claims he wouldn’t actually do it. But it’s all bullshit to me! I don’t care that the writer tried to sugar coat this…The girls who read this novel are young. They don’t see the difference. They don’t realize people like Conrad are toxic. No he didn’t hit her, but still the very thought that this kind of behavior is romanticized makes me sick.
Over all, the book was tolerable. In some ways, it reminded me of my summers when I was in middle school. I did enjoy the book until I got to the part where Conrad and Belly fight. The only way I’d let a young girl read this books is if I can talk to her about it afterwards. So I can talk to her about the bullshit within the novel.
I just want to say that I do not think all young girls can’t tell the difference between love and domestic violence. My point is that those kinds of messages can leave an impression on some young women and/or girls. The scene I discussed, in particular, was very subtle. I know, if I read this at sixteen, I’m almost sure I would have romanticized that scene.