Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy: Physics Failure

I’m coming up with a theory that what separates a fine young adult romance from a great one is mainly a matter of mass and velocity.  And when it comes to physics the Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy, by Jenny Han, fell short in both respects. The basic structure made enough sense: basic love triangle, with a twist that both male leads are brothers.

The books follow Isabel “Belly” (gross!) and her mother’s best friend’s sons Conrad and Jeremiah through three books: The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You, and We’ll Always Have Summer. The two families spend every summer together at the beach. Until the summer before Belly’s sixteenth year, the boys and her older brother leave her out. Then she gets breasts and everything changes.

When it comes to mass, the weight assigned to events within the trilogy makes no sense. There is a way in high school, and thus in YA novels, that having a crush can be assigned greater importance to school, friends, and severe family drama. Finding this balance in a way that is believable is a challenge particularly important in a romance. This is Han’s major fail. Literally life-changing decisions are treated with less consideration then what to wear to a bonfire. The fact that Belly vacillates between brothers is either over-dramatized or trivialized.

You might, by now, be able to tell that 9th grade physics was the lowest grade I got in my life…but in terms of velocity the series also disappoints. In all three books 90% of the action happens in the final 10% of the novel. The ends are not foreshadowed. All of a sudden: people are declaring their love, breaking each other’s hearts, and at times doing both at the same time.

Where Han does succeed is in creating tension. Maybe it was just me, but I was definitely excited to keep reading to find out which brother Belly would end up with. If you are looking for a new contemporary young adult series, then go ahead and read these books. I probably would have liked, but not loved, these books when I was in high school.  I would definitely recommend Stephanie Perkins or Megan McCafferty instead.

P.S. I’ve heard rumors of a movie version, but can’t confirm. Has anyone heard anything?

Late Adopter

Last week I started listening to Freedom by Jonanthan Franzen on the way to work. I’m a few disks away from finishing (so don’t ruin anything for me!) but let me tell you, I am in love.  It seems to capture human experiences and emotions in a way that seems more real to me then anything else I’ve read, even my own diary. The characters are flawed, interesting, and believable. The plot is intricate without being heavy handed. In fact I would recommend you all read it, except for the fact that you probably already have.

I can’t help wondering why I didn’t read this book back in 2010 when it climbed the best sellers list and it seemed like everyone was talking about it. I am trying to find people who will discuss the book with – but the message thus far has been clear, the rest of the world has moved on.

I am a consummate late adopter. I don’t know if I am just contrary, or consistently out of the loop – but somehow I’m always behind the trends in movies, music, and especially in books. I didn’t even start texting until 2008. Something hits the scene and somehow everyone around me has read/heard/watched it. My friends are talking about it in hushed tones, trying not to give away endings. Blogs and magazines feature interviews with the author and strong love/hate opinions.

From Hunger Games to Inception to the Twilight Series (oh and The Office and Taylor Swift) I am completely out of the loop and then once I finally get around to reading/seeing/listening I am the biggest fan of all. I don’t know…maybe because it feels like everyone has moved on my ardor only grows. Not to say that anyone has moved on by the Hunger Games or Twilight, as evidenced by the recent Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart debacle, or the internet quest to figure out who will play Finnick in the next Hunger Games movie.

Who else has had similar experiences? What are some things you’ve been late in adopting and ended up loving?

Marry, Date or Dump: Peanuts Gang

They might be cartoons, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a serious choice. Who would you marry, date or dump from the Peanuts comic. I chose Charlie Brown, Linus, and Schroeder. But if you have strong feelings/opinions about Pig Pen or Snoopy, or you want to do the girls instead (Lucy, Sally, and the little red-headed girl perhaps?) feel free to make substitutions in the comments!

Double Review: Stephanie Perkins

In the spirit if summer beach reads, this week we read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. The books are billed as flirty and fun, contemporary teen romances, and they did not disappoint. Where Perkins succeeds most is her ability to tap into the teenage girl psyche. She understands that to her readers platonically sleeping with a crush or having a boy brush your hair is sexier than, well, sex.

This companion set begins with Anna. She is forced to spend her senior year in a boarding school for American students in Paris. She wants no part of it. She misses her best friend, her mother and brother, and wants to be flirting with her crush who has only begun to notice her. Plus she doesn’t speak French. She is quickly absorbed into an existing friend group. As she slowly gets over her culture shock, the book follows Anna dealing with the dramas typical of a close-knit clique: jealousies, friends who move on, crushes with girl friends, family problems and more.

Perkins creates believable characters and manages to imbibe each episode with the right amount of importance. However, I felt some distance from the narrative. I couldn’t help thinking almost every chapter how much more I would have liked it if I had read it for the first time when I was in high school.  Despite the good writing and excellent pacing, I didn’t connect.

I had no such problem with Lola and the Boy Next Door. From the first page I loved Lola. Lola doesn’t wear clothes; she wears costumes. She lives in San Francisco with her two dads, dates a punk rocker in his early twenties, and has a serious grudge against her neighbors and childhood playmates, Calliope and Cricket Bell.  When they move back, Lola must sift through a lifetime of feeling for the boy next door.

For me, Lola was a more interesting and engaging character. Beyond her outrageous outfits, I found her funnier and more vibrant than Anna. Throughout the second book, I felt like there was more at stake. Both books have romance as the main plot, but while Anna spent most of her book trying to decide what boy she likes and what she should do about it, Lola deals with questions of her identity and struggles coming to terms with her birth parents.

Cricket Bell, boy next door and aspiring inventor, is probably my favorite character in the whole series. From the rubber bands he wears on his wrists to the detailed descriptions of the way he wears his pants, let’s just say that I have a serious crush … which feels a little creepy now that I am almost officially in my mid-twenties.

I suggest you read both books (not only because Anna pops up as a regular character in the second book) and decide for yourself. Both main characters are fantastic, because they each have distinct passions (Anna loves film, Lola sewing). They each have a strong sense of self, but remain vulnerable. If you want to travel back to the highs and lows of adolescence with two charmingly understated romances then these are the books for you. I can see myself rereading them when I want something like, and will definitely check out Perkins next novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After.

For further reading and reviews:

  • Anna and the French Kiss review on The Book Barbies
  • Lola and the Boy Next Door review on The Book Sleuth
  • Review on both books on Rampant Reads
  • Interview with Stephanie Perkins

*Update from February 2014: I don’t know why I didn’t connect with Anna’s story the first time I read it, but I just wanted to say that I’ve reread both books several times since writing this review. My opinion now, is that they are both really captivating, riveting, top-notch contemporary YA romances.