Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 5th, 2009
Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer--they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
I've had my eye on this book for a couple of years. The draw for me was the title, mostly because I get it. I was a pretty awkward adolescent; taller than all the boys (I was 5'7" at 12), ridiculously thin, with legs that made up 3/4 of my height, and NO boobs. I had braces to fix my GIGANTIC, crooked teeth, and hair that never got the memo that big was in (it was always flat by 1st period, no matter how much hairspray I used). That all changed for me the summer between 8th and 9th grades. Suddenly my boob growth caught up with the rest of my growth (although you would never have called me curvy, I at least was no longer concave), flat-all-one-length hair became fashionable, and the boys caught up to, and passed me, in height. All of the sudden, my long legs were a good thing... I became PRETTY, and the boys were suddenly paying attention out of nowhere. That all being said, I totally bonded with what Belly, the protagonist, was feeling in the book. She was so unsure of herself, but at the same time, realizing the power that a pretty girl has. Put my relation to all of that aside and this book was not REMOTELY what I expected. I was expecting a fun summer beach read. This book was not all that fun... It was actually a bit on the heavy side. That's not to say I didn't like it. I did. A lot. It just wasn't the carefree, fun read I was expecting. It was still excellent though. Of course, you won't get any spoilers from me, so I won't be telling you why it wasn't what I expected or why I still liked it...
The things I didn't like? At first I would say I didn't like Belly, but she did grow on me, and I have a feeling I will begin to like her more as I progress through the series (which I definitely plan to do). In this book she was mostly just whiny, immature, self-absorbed, and crazy-spoiled in a coddled, overprotected way. I definitely think she matured in some ways by the end, but she never became as mature as she should have been at 16. I also didn't like that it was a tad predictable. By that I mean, I saw the "climactic secret" coming a mile away, and thought that the kids should have as well...
Now for the things I liked... The writing style was great. I liked the flashbacks to prior summers. I liked the words Jenny Han used to describe the atmosphere at the beach house; physical and emotional. Sometimes you felt like you could cut the tension with a knife in that house, and I love when I feel what I'm reading in my gut. The character development was good. That doesn't mean I necessarily liked all of the characters, but I felt like I got to know them for good or bad. The best part for me though, was the fact that I really think Jenny Han gets how the teenage mind works. I know I'm years (LOTS) past my teen years, but I remember what it was like, and I feel like she hits the nail on the head.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I read it while I sat on a quiet piece beach in Bermuda, and I couldn't have asked for a better setting. It didn't blow me away, but I have a feeling the next two books will. I think this is the quintessential set-up book. We'll see...
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Grade Level Recommendation: This book is heavy on the romance, for sure, building from just feelings to action. Inappropriately so? I don't think so. I wouldn't say that this would be an introductory YA book for an advanced younger reader, but it is definitely fine for it's intended age group. I would say ages 12 and up (6th grade+). As I said, heavy romance, plus teen drinking and a bit of language.