“Before Jeremiah or anybody else could answer me, I made a run for the sliding doors, and then I stumbled down the steps and sprinted onto the beach. I felt like a flying comet, a streak in the sky, like I hadn’t used my muscles in so long and it felt great to stretch my legs and run.
The house, all lit up with people inside, felt a million miles away. I knew he’d come after me. I didn’t have to turn around to know it was him. But I did anyway.” (p. 200)
I reviewed the first in Jenny Han’s ‘summer’ trilogy, The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009), here last year; my upshot was that I liked the TV show on Prime better than the book, but I didn’t feel hugely negative about the book either. It’s Not Summer Without You jumps around in time a lot, but we start off in the summer following the last one, the one after which Nothing Would Ever Be The Same Again, as is the wont of summers when you’re sixteen. A tragedy foreshadowed in the first book has taken place, leaving a fairly significant void at the heart of the intertwined families in the stories. Lauren, as the only sane adult, is struggling to cope with a crack in her world; her son Steven isn’t really in this book, and her daughter–narrator-protagonist Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin tries very hard not to make things all about her, but is often unsuccessful. Which is actually fairly realistic for a sixteen year-old who veers between a lot of grown up things–desire, fear, jealousy, grief, moral grey areas–and wanting her mummy to fix things for everyone. The other family is the Fishers. Belly has been obsessed with Conrad Fisher, a taciturn and melancholy surfer type, since she was young, though now she might be shifting her allegiance to his brother Jeremiah, a cheerful chap at the best of times and (again somewhat realistically) at a loss at the worst of them. Their mother Susannah has always loved Belly like a daughter, and actively encouraged her relationship with Conrad, ordering Conrad to take Belly to the prom for instance, but not enough, I think is, made of this in this novel either, as Susannah’s attention and devotion (and occasional meddling) are overwhelmingly viewed with love and gratitude. Susannah is basically too saint-like–giving Belly the chance to question her motives and perhaps rebel against the assumption that she’s destined to be a Fisher would add some interesting texture here. Indeed, Jeremiah gets his own chapters here–Belly doesn’t even get her own book to herself any more.
When Belly does get to be thorny rather than dreamy, it works well. Belly’s only real relationship outside the Fisher-Conklin Venn diagram is with her BFF Taylor, but for whatever reason–and I think this is fairly common in the YA fiction and films of that era, I think Bella Swan did the same with her human friends–her feelings towards her so-called best friend tend to be dominated by irritation. Friendship and the admittedly often tense relationships that teenage friends have with each other are far better sketched in Han’s To All The Boys series. Neither Conrad nor Jeremiah are ultimately particularly appealing as love interests (at least from my elderly vantage point), but they do develop some complexity in their own right. What interests me here in particular is the specific kind of nostalgia you can only have when you’re young, and which develops, I think, far more early than we often think. The more melancholy tones of It’s Not Summer Without You are rather prettily evoked at times, and again, often realistic. One of the main things I remember from my far-off youth is that there are things you can only say in the dark, and this is also a fairly specific mood that Han is skilled at portraying. Overall, I enjoyed this, and I am now actively quite keen to read the finale.
Title quote from Taylor Swift’s ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’