Synopsis: 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.
I thought I would abhor these but I was wrong. I ended up absolutely loving them. The books are each a solid 4 star so the overall is a 4.0 for me and it’s very well deserved.
The story starts with young Isabel “Belly” arriving at the Summer house, a house that belongs to her mother’s best friend, Susannah. Belly has been going to that house all her life and she’s grown up with Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Conrad is the eldest, two years older than Belly, he’s quiet, reserved, studios and the natural leader. Jeremiah is a year older than Belly and he’s the fun, happy, funny one who is Belly’s best friend. Belly has been in love with Conrad since she was 10 but he’s never seen her as anything other than a little sister. The first book begins with this innocent plot, a girl turns 16 and suddenly both boys begin noticing her as something else. The first book is phenomenal. Almost 5 star review. You have a wonderful sort of innocent that permeates the story, took me back to when I was her age and the magic that Summers and boys held. Belly is very innocent and doesn’t see where Conrad’s moodiness is coming from until the end and it is heartbreaking. Jenny Han does such a good job of stabbing you in the feels in this one, it comes nearly unexpected and it’s like a tidal wave. The first book ends in a solid note, honestly Jenny Han could have stopped there but she crafted the rest of the series very well.
SPOILERS BELOW – stop here if you’ve not read or keep on if you’re a control freak that needs to know how things end before becoming emotionally committed to anything, I stand in solidarity.
The second book, It’s Not Summer Without You begins utterly heartbreaking. Susannah has died and this entire book is a jumble of grief. In my opinion, this is the strongest of the books because the grief is so palpable especially in Conrad. Belly is pushing him for something he doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to give her and that pushing destroys them. We are also introduced to Jeremiah’s POV here but Jenny Han crafts it for the true purpose of giving the reader and insight into Conrad without giving Conrad his own voice yet. The scene when Laurel arrives to the house and drags a hungover Belly out is just heartbreaking. It’s like they’re all cracking, they don’t know how to put themselves together after the death. Everyone is in pieces. This book ends with Conrad Peter Parkering himself and realizing he can’t give Belly what she needs now but sees that Jeremiah does love her so he steps aside to let them be together. Does Jeremiah truly love Belly or does Jeremiah love her because it’s the one time he can have what Conrad doesn’t have? I’m not certain, I think he walks a fine line between the two, in my opinion.
The third book, We’ll Always Have Summer, is set in the future and this one was the least of my favorites because of one simple reason – that strong grief that deepened the other 2 books is gone in this one, it’s replaced by… I can’t even describe it. I would have given it 3 stars but the ending made up for it and cut that emotional punch the previous 2 delivered but it was, without doubt, a weak beginning. In this book we have all the characters 2 years older and none the wiser. Belly and Jeremiah have been dating since book 2 ended and they’re in love or so Belly tells us and the reason I had a problem connecting with Jeremiah in this one is because unlike the progression with Conrad we do not see Belly and Jeremiah truly going through their journey of love. The book starts and now we’re here, 2 years later – Belly loves Jeremiah, she tells us so, there’s no show. Right off the bat we find out Jeremiah cheated on her when (to employ 90s trivia) THEY WERE ON A BREAK. However, we’re talking about college students here, while they SHOULD be partying and hooking up with random people these two (I’m not going to call them idiots because…) are trying to have a serious relationship so of course it blows up and Jeremiah out of sheer desperation asks Belly to marry him (with a ring he bough using his Dad’s credit card no less). Belly, in retrospect, says yes because I think she wants to prove to herself and others that Jeremiah is the one for her. This novel brings into the play Conrad’s POV – finally! And Conrad is, without doubt, the best character in this. He’s just rich and complex, he’s incredibly flawed yet altruistic, he’s also not good with emotion and people tend to read him wrong and he says the wrong things etc. So the conflict in this one centers around the 2 months before this teen wedding at the end of Summer and as Belly and Conrad start hanging out again it brings out feelings which never went away and as you can imagine it’s a rich-kid mess at the beach house. The stellar players here other than Conrad is Laurel who is probably my favorite character of the book, Taylor who has surprisingly became a true best friend and Anita, Belly’s college friend, who brings balance to what is quickly turning into a Gossip Girl episode (I will not admit to watching the show, don’t ask). However, the book redeems itself at the very end when Conrad FINALLY – and I mean FINALLY tells Belly how he’s felt all these years, to pick him and Belly FINALLY – finally finally finally!!!! turns him down. She goes off on her own and it’s delightful. Eventually Belly and Conrad find their way back to one another, Jeremiah is fine, we think – he’s dating some chick and is now a side character but Belly and Conrad have their finale. My problem essentially is that I think Han could have – should not – have destroyed Jeremiah’s character the way she did, Belly still having feelings for Conrad should have been enough for it to destroy them but that’s not what happened here and I’m sad but this is what happens when your book centers around a love triangle, someone will end up getting shit on.
Overall? I think the series is awesome, truly I do. I think it’s a surprisingly deep read, overlook the silliness in the beginning of Book 3 and you’re set for a great YA Contemporary.