It had been years since I’d read anything by Jennifer Weiner. I’m not sure why, exactly. Years ago, I enjoyed Good In Bed quite a bit, a novel about a woman whose ex-boyfriend writes an article about loving someone plus-size, and In Her Shoes, a story about two very different sisters (which was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz). I also admire the the writing shes’s done over the years about how the literary world doesn’t take women’s fiction seriously, relegating popular books written by women, featuring female characters, to the “chick lit” category when the same story written by a man would likely be considered literary fiction. When I heard that she was coming to speak at a library event near me, I wanted to read something more recent, so I picked up Big Summer.
This novel is about an up-and-coming plus-size Instagram influencer named Daphne, whose former best friend, the very wealthy Drue Cavanaugh, tracks her down and asks her to be in her upcoming wedding. Drue was emphatically not a good friend. Throughout the book we learn about how inconsistent and sometimes cruel she was to Daphne, and all of the people in her orbit. This is why she doesn’t have enough friends now to fill out a list of bridesmaids. But Daphne’s always had a hard time resisting the lure of Drue’s glamorous world and how good her attention feels, and she also knows that a high-profile wedding can only help her Instagram following. So, she says yes and becomes a bridesmaid.
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. Daphne is working on her self esteem after a lifetime of thinking her weight made her less than, and as she gets more followers on Instagram, she reflects on how she’s sharing her life with her followers but always in a calculated way because no one wants to see unvarnished, messy truth.
Halfway through the book, it has a twist, and it becomes a mystery novel. I wish I could say that the mystery half worked for me, but to me the mystery plot was clunky and relied on devices such as the MC suddenly remembering things at opportune moments. The MC also trusts a character who is the most likely suspect, mostly because he’s hot and might be actually interested in her. With him and her best friend, Daphne tries to untangle the mystery so that the inept police don’t try to accuse her as the suspect.
To be honest, I feel like the mystery was a misstep. I was really into the MC’s journey and would have loved to follow that through the book. I would like to discuss the book with someone else who’s read it, because while we absolutely feel for Daphne when we learn how people have treated her for not being skinny, she also judges people for their looks. She’s quick to risk her loyal best friend for a chance to be back in chic, wealthy Drue’s orbit. She mocks her college boyfriend, who she calls “Wan Ron,” for being boring and unappealing, without seeming to realize that she’s doing the same thing to him as others always did to her. And her present-day love interest’s defining characteristics seem to be mostly physical, his muscles and classic good looks described in detail. Daphne wants people to see her as attractive, but she seems to be as surface-level when it comes to others’ appearances as anyone else. I’d love to know if Weiner wrote her that way by design, because it’s true that we all absorb those societal values even when we don’t mean to or we’re trying to fight against them.
Back to the mystery, when the big reveal finally happened, it didn’t feel earned. And I think it’s difficult to shift the genre of a book halfway through when the reader, if they’ve read that far, are invested in the type of book they think that they’re reading. Still, I don’t regret picking it up, and I’ll probably read Weiner again. She does a good job immersing the reader into a character’s world, and I love that she’s featured plus-size characters often without making that their single defining quality.