Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

As promised, here is my first book review post.

It is a post of many firsts.

It is my first book review on The Struggling Librarian. Confession: I am quite nervous, so please try to be kind?

Furthermore, it is the first book in my *summer of Sarah Dessen*. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have dedicated my summer to reading all of Sarah Dessen’s novels, so this is the first part of my journey.

Incidentally, it is also the first book Sarah Dessen published (although not the first one she wrote).

(Dessen, 2015)

I will admit, I did not start reading That Summer because I intended to read her books in chronological order. I confess, I picked it because A. it was the smallest book (don’t judge me), and B. it’s about summer; what better way to start my summer journey into Sarah Dessen territory, than to start with a book about summer? However, since I did start with her first published book, I have decided to continue in the same vein, and will thus continue in chronological order.

So, without further ado, my review.

To start, a little on Sarah Dessen.

The generic little spiel about the author found in her books gives little information on her. The gist of it: a resident of Durham, N.C., she graduated in creative writing at UNC Chapel Hill (there is a big emphasis on her graduating with highest honours – in her place, I would be pretty proud too), where she also taught for a bit.

(Dessen, 1996)

The great information on her can be found on her website. We get a little insight on her personality – humble, yet real, confident, and fun.  If you’re interested and want more details, take a look at it, but here is my favourite part of her bio:

Now that I’m writing full time, I have my good days and bad days. But I’d rather be doing this, even on the worst days, than anything else.

(Dessen, 2015, Bio)

I don’t care much to learn about the credentials, because at the end of the day, it’s the writing that counts. Yet it’s wonderful to learn that such accomplished writers are human too, that they have the same struggles we do. Anyway, onto That Summer.

That Summer

IMG_1897

Published in 1996, That Summer won the ALA “Best book for Young Adults”. It is a book about summer and all the changes that come with the season. For fifteen year-old, insanely tall, Haven, it is difficult to adjust. Her father is getting remarried, her bridezilla sister Ashley is marrying the boring Lewis Warsher, and Haven cannot help reminiscing over that summer when everything was easier – when Ashley was dating Sumner Lee, when Haven was not invisible. Quite unexpectedly, Sumner turns up, giving Haven the hope that things may go back to the way they used to be.

(Dessen, 1996)

My thoughts

OH the angst! Reading this book, I was able to think back to my years as a teenager, when everything was just. too. much. Every day I felt as if I was on the verge of the apocalypse. People couldn’t understand me, and the whole world was against me. Today, I can’t relate as much with Haven. But back then? When I was fifteen? Oh yes, I was so Haven. Minus the gangly part – for that, I identified with Sumner’s tidbit of wisdom on short people:

You should be grateful you’re tall, Haven. Tall people are revered and respected in this world. If you’re short and stubby, no one will give you the time of day.

(Dessen, 1996, p. 68-69)

On the other hand, I was wholeheartedly able to identify with her family struggles. Admittedly, I was much younger when my parents split up, but the feelings of anger, the fear of change, the disappointments, were all the same. I felt as if Haven was voicing all of the thoughts I had as a kid, and still now as an adult:

And I felt it, again, that same feeling I got whenever another change or shift in my life was announced to me… that need to dig in my heels and prepare myself for the next shock and its aftermath. I was tired of hanging on, taking the torn pieces to make something whole with them.

(Dessen, 1996, p. 123)

Divorce is difficult on all children, no matter the age. I still struggle with it today, trying to figure out how to include my disjointed family into my life, without disrupting the calm, and all the while being fair to both sides of my family. Ashley’s rant on their family situation reflects my own internal turmoil, and the anxiety I feel towards my family’s possible behaviour on the day of my upcoming nuptials :

What your family does reflects on you a lot more, especially when it’s as twisted as ours is.

(Dessen, 1996. p. 77)

Ashley is the embodiment of bridezilla and the awful big sister. Although humanized at certain points, Ashley is completely self-absorbed and mean. As an older sister and bride-t0-be, I was a little disturbed. I felt she was a little over the top. Although humanized at certain moments, she was completely self-absorbed. I guess I just don’t know what it’s like from the point of view of a younger sister, so I couldn’t relate. I’ve always been rather close to my little sister. We haven’t always gotten along, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that selfish when it came to her (emphasis on think). I’ve also never met a real life bridezilla. I’ve heard about them on TV and in movies, and read about them in books, but have never seen one in real life. To be honest, I thought they were just an over-exaggeration – do brides really get that crazy over weddings? Meanwhile, I’m as cool as a cucumber (although, that may change once the wedding date approaches – I’ll keep you posted on that).

Sumner was predictable. I won’t go into details to save you from spoilers, but let’s just say that I had him figured out before he was even back in the picture.

I also thought Haven was unfair in her descriptions of Lewis. He seemed like a nice guy, and not all that boring. I mean, he did surprise Ashley often with wild and tropical flowers (I would kill for my fiancé to bring me flowers out of the blue – hint hint). And what’s wrong with stability? Although, I can understand that from a younger sister’s perspective, that may not be as exciting.

With that being said, I liked this book. Albeit a little predictable, it was beautifully written and a very easy read. This is, however, not one of those YA books I would recommend to adults who don’t normally read YA. The tone is a little young, and if you don’t want to deal with teen drama, this isn’t for you. However, I do recommend it for your teenage daughters/sisters/nieces (or you, reader, if you are a teen). It deals with adolescent issues, but still stays “clean”, without seeming prudish. I think nowadays teenagers are often way too exposed to “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll”. Although this is the reality of our days, it’s nice to read a book dealing with sibling and family relations, and boys, without the PG-13. Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

And so, here we are, at the end of my review; I hope you have enjoyed it. With any luck, this has incited you to read That Summer… or the opposite is fine too. If you have already read it, what are your thoughts (please comment below)? Either way, I am quite happy with the start of my *summer of Sarah Dessen*. Thanks for reading and taking this journey with me.

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

 

 

References
Dessen, S. (1996). That summer. New York: Puffin Books.
Dessen, S. (2005). Sarah Dessen. Retrieved from http://sarahdessen.com/

 

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