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?