Title: It's Not Summer Without You
Author(s): Jenny Han
Genre: YA Coming-of-Age, Romance, Family
Page Count: 275
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
WARNING: Spoilers for Book 1
Summary: Last year, all of Belly's dreams came true and the thought of missing a summer in Cousins Beach was inconceivable. But like the rise and fall of the ocean tide, things can change-just like that. Suddenly the time she's always looked forward to most is something she dreads. And when Jeremiah calls to say Conrad has disappeared, Belly must decide how she will spend this summer: chasing after the boy she loves, or finally letting go
The Review: You know, I was extremely nervous about how I would feel about this novel when I first cracked open the pages. I mean, I loooooved Shug, but was far more ambivalent about The Summer I Turned Pretty. A large part of this had to do with the fact that the guy I was rooting for was this minor character called Cam,* who was a total darling and a much better love interest than either the two brothers and I was put out by the fact that he probably won’t appear again. The love triangle was obviously that between the two brothers, (which the cover never fails to remind us of), and I just don’t really care for either of them. But there’s something about Jenny Han’s writing that always pulls me in. I’d read her prose, and even if I don’t care for this type of romance story she could still pull me in. Her writing evokes such sympathetic emotions within me for the characters even when I don’t care for their personalities. In other words, I don’t think I would have stuck to this series this long if it weren’t for Jenny Han’s writing, I don’t find the characters endearing so much within their character traits (in fact, if I were to be honest, the leading characters are the types that really don’t do it for me. Ugh, Conrad) as for the fact that Jenny Han convinces me to be sympathetic through her dreamlike, lush prose. Steph Su described this book in her review as having powerful "emotional resonance", and I have to say that I agree. This emotional resonance is what will pull you in from the first page to the last. Was the story itself worth it though? I’m not sure, we’ll have to see with the final book in the trilogy.
One thing’s for certain, I like the premise here infinitely better than in the first book. I don’t really care for the whole concept of First Love Is Forever nonsense, and I’ll admit I was quite baffled at how Belly kept on insisting that the other brother, Conrad**, was the only one for her, etc. This book is much more about moving on, both in love and in the memory of those who’ve passed on, which is a concept I can totally get behind on. I also liked how the story with the two brother’s angst felt much more integrated in this book than the first. I’ll admit, I was super annoyed at the whole bit at the end of the first book wherein Belly goes on about basically how the story wasn’t about her and it was about the boys, which had me going like ‘Noooooooooooooo,’ and wanting to ram my head against a wall. I was like, ‘way to make the story NOT about the protagonist!’ *coughs* Anyhow, in THIS book at any rate, we didn’t have a random point thrown in wherein the story stopped being about Belly and being about someone else instead. I think the whole Jeremiah narration helped with this. I can accept a story about the boys i.e. Jeremiah if he was narrating on it, so when we had the brothers-centric narration through Jeremiah, I didn’t get mad about the absence of Belly. Likewise, for Belly’s narration, in all her parts the story was still moving around her, and I liked that. No passive narrators telling us the story of others for me!
I think I would have found all this romance stuff rather nauseating if it weren’t for the fact that it is also parallel with a strong family storyline. Love triangles like these annoy me, and it reminded me too much of those melodramas from Korean shows that I don’t like, the ones wherein we have the sweet innocent girl who is devoted to some cold-hearted leading guy I as a viewer despise and every guy related to the leading man loves her, from brother to cousin to best friend to uncle for all I care. *** To give it credit, I actually wasn’t completely annoyed with the romance this time around. Jeremiah was like, an actual competitor for Belly’s affections!
I’ll admit, I was kind of looking forward to seeing Belly interact with more characters outside of the boys and their family, but this was not meant to be. Belly doesn’t really have any significant interactions with anyone outsider the two brothers and her mom, and to me it makes me feel like Belly’s world is so incredibly small. I mean, doesn’t she have real friends at school to talk about things outside of boys? Her friendship with Taylor in the first book always felt weak to me, and it really didn’t improve in the second book. **** That’s another reason why I’m kind of hoping Belly will just end up with a guy that’s totally unrelated to Conrad or Jeremiah. There’s more to the world than just those two boys. It was cool that the people around Belly in school and stuff were casually multi-ethnic though. There were some last names that struck me as distinctly Korean, etc. Though um, the description for Conrad’s love of his life bugged the heck out of me. My copy described her as “East Asian, maybe Indian”, and if you know your geography at all India is SOUTH, not east. I was willing to write this out as maybe just an uncorrected mistake from the ARC, but I flipped through the book that’s out in the bookstore and it hasn’t been fixed. [/tangent]
The Verdict: An improvement in storyline over the first book. The writing is beautiful as always, and you can’t help but be moved by the emotional portrayals in this story. If you liked the first book than you definitely won’t be disappointed by the sequel. It definitely pulls in a bigger punch. Conversely, if you didn’t care for the first book, then I doubt your opinions will change with the second. However, as for myself, I’m still unsure about how I feel about this book, due to my inherent dislike of love triangle premises like these ones. In other words, I suspect that most of my problems stem from the fact that this type of story is generally not my thing, and less to do with the actual quality of the story itself. I’ll probably know how I feel about this whole trilogy once I get my hands on the third book, wherein Jenny Han will hopefully have Belly move on with a new love of her life orrr perhaps redeem Conrad/Belly for me (I’m not optimistic for the latter. Which is a shame, because I think Conrad/Belly is the most likely outcome).
Title and Cover Discussion: It’s fine? I mean, the title is simple enough to remember, and the cover is different enough from the other single-white-girl covers that I feel permeate this Sarah Dessen-esque genre, but there’s nothing particularly striking about this cover or the title to make me say I love it! Or anything. *shrugs*
*WHO WAS ON TEAM CAM BACK IN THE FIRST BOOK?! I CAN’T BE THE ONLY ONE HERE.
**… I actually momentarily forgot his name while typing up this review and had to google the book to remember. Shows how much I cared for that guy.
*** Not that I totally hate all melodramas from South Korea. I do like watching some melodrama fares, but I’d rather stay away from the melodramas wherein we have all these weirdly related guys fighting over the same girl. But I’ll admit, I prefer the romcoms and saeguks (historical dramas) from S. Korea.
**** Also, why can’t we have female friendships wherein your best girl friend doesn’t turn out to be a boyfriend stealer or something? That’s what really annoyed me in the 1st book. It made me wish we got more portrayals of the moms’ friendship, because that actually felt like a female friendship that was genuine. And of course, would offset the Taylor fail.