Young Adult Education

Young Adult Education: ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty' by Jenny Han

There’s something magical about a summer spent at the beach. As a kid, I read Alice in Rapture, Sort Of more times than I could count and loved every word of it: Alice’s new two-piece swimsuit, Pamela’s tiny bikini top falling off in the ocean, Patrick’s surprise visit. I flew through the pages of Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters (given to me by an unsuspecting aunt), enthralled by Vix and Caitlin’s dramatic summers full of friendship, romance, and betrayal.

My beach experiences as a kid were somewhat less transformative; they mostly involved week long trips to Virginia Beach, where I spent my time getting sunburned in my unflattering one piece while fighting with my brothers. This was great for the family memories, but not-so-hot as a coming of age story. Maybe that’s why I cherished those classic beach stories, the ones where a summer at the beach meant exploration and romance. The girls in these books learned about life, love and adventure; they looked good in their sundresses, they met boys at the bike shop or the ice cream stand, and they wore bikinis. At no point did they think a Winnie the Pooh tank top was an appropriate sartorial choice (not that I did, or anything). At no point did they have to yell at their brother for farting in the hotel room (not that that happened to me, or anything). For these girls, a summer at the beach meant being unshackled from regular life; the beach was where excitement happened, and the old rules did not apply.

It’s in this grand tradition of summer beach reads that we come to The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, which was recommended to me by one of our lovely readers. Belly Conklin lives for summers at Cousins Beach. She, her mother and her brother spend every summer there with her mother’s best friend Susannah. Belly loves Susannah, but she really loves Susannah’s sons, Jeremiah and Conrad. Jeremiah is funny, goofy, and friendly. Conrad is a different story. He’s dark, mysterious, moody and quiet…kind of like Mr. Darcy. He’s the one Belly likes, the one she’s been in love with since she was a little girl. Every other summer she was just a kid, but now that she’s 16, she’s old enough for something to finally happen.

What follows is a summer full of swimming, parties and boys. Does Conrad like Belly, or does he just think of her as a little kid? What about Cam, the guy she meets a bonfire? And is she imagining things, or does it seem like Jeremiah might like her a little bit? This is the summer everything changes for Belly, the summer she goes from being one of the guys to being a girl in her own right.

But Belly’s beach summer isn’t all the stuff that romantic YA adventures are made of; there’s a true tragedy here, one that snuck up on me the same way it snuck up on Belly. Ultimately Belly does grow up, but she discovers that adulthood isn’t just kissing, tanning and having fun. Those rough, jagged edges are a part of the package.

Some Highlights:

-If you loved The Summer I Turned Pretty, you’re in luck because it’s actually the first in a trilogy. The books are surprising, exciting and totally addictive. I sped through them in about a week.

-There’s a scene near the end of the book that involves an e.e. cummings poem, a pool and me crying. If you’ve been reading this column for awhile, it should come as no surprise to you that a book made me cry, but I just think you need to be warned.

-Jenny Han’s website is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The graph paper, the doodles and the old-fashioned library cards? I love it.

Are there any books you’d like to see covered in Young Adult Education? Let us know in the comments!

Image via Goodreads