Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It’s Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han -- Book Review

It’s Not Summer Without You is a quick summer/beach read with a young voice but an ending and point-of-view issues that left me feeling unsatisfied. 

For as long as Belly can remember summer has always been about Cousins Beach with the boys — Jeremiah and Conrad. But when her mother’s best friend and the boys’ mother dies summer will never be the same. Ever since Susannah’s death Belly’s relationship with the Jeremiah and Conrad has been in shambles. Then Conrad goes missing and Jeremiah asks for Belly’s help in finding him. So together they take one last trip to Cousins and battle through grief and love and all the complications that come with it.

The beach and summer setting make this book a perfect summer read. It’s quick and is filled with intense emotions and unanswered questions that will keep you reading as you lounge at the beach or pool. Though this is the second book in the series, after The Summer I Turned Pretty, I think the story stands well on its own.

Belly as a character and narrator has a good voice that is nice to read. Her narration feels genuine for a 17-year-old girl dealing with lost love and grief. For me, this novel falls on the lower end of the maturity scale when compared to other Young Adult novels. The emotional complications will ring true for an early teen reader more so then with a mature teen or adult reader.

While the story really only takes place over about a week it also tells the story of an entire lifetime through sporadically placed flashbacks. This construction bothered me not because the time was hard to follow (Han makes it very clear when this is a scene from the past) but because it seemed like a cop-out for constructing a story in the present that builds a world in the here and now. I wish the information the reader learns from these flashbacks was more eloquently interspersed in the main story line.

Additionally, the narrative is limited by Belly’s first-person point of view, sort of. Jeremiah serves as a part-time narrator but only to fill in the gaps that readers can’t see through Belly. This flip in narration wouldn’t have bothered me if Jeremiah developed as a character in more ways than to just fill in the back-story between the threesome and as a way to build romantic tension.

The ending of this book is one of the most disappointing I have read in a long time. Personality quirks are explained away by saying, “that’s just the way things have always been.” And things are left too-widely open so that none of the characters get any closure in a way that leaves the story feeling very incomplete. The trilogy continues with We’ll Always Have Summer, but I feel that the ending should stand alone as much as the rest of the story.

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