Don’t Just Read The Summer I Turned Pretty…Experience It!
For me reading a book is a whole experience. When an author shares a story with you, they are really sharing a piece of themselves. Writing is a deeply personal experience. When I write, I am constantly reminded of little things, movies, books, food, games, people, and specific memories. These connections shape my story. When I’m reading they shape my perspective and what I take away. They make me want to create an environment where I can immerse myself in the book.
I read The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han during the winter, when I was longing for the sun, pools, and warm outdoor fun. I was happy to find a story that not only took place at the beach, but was written with a balance of nostalgia and the new revelations that only come with growing older before you’re ready. I’m convinced it’s what we all ultimately do.
Put simply, without spoilers, this book tells the story of Belly who wanted to finally be seen as old enough to be a part of everything her summers at the beach have to offer, but her feelings for two brothers, who her family shares a house with, get in the way. Because she cares deeply for both of them, she is constantly conflicted about what, or who, she truly wants. Experiencing this book was easy, because Belly seemed like such a real person, one who struggles to find the words and sometimes the courage to say what she needs to say in a given moment.
I’ll start with my movie connection. It’s hard to not get warm fuzzies when I’m reading a book that references eighties movie gold like The Breakfast Club. Anyone who knows me is aware I spent high school devouring these teen films at an almost embarrassing rate. My apologies to any of my friends that I forced to sit and watch them, no matter how awful some of them were (Private School, I’m talking about you). I know there were a couple of you who latched on to their magic right along with me. If I hadn’t already been enjoying The Summer I Turned Pretty, I would have once Belly used the term self-righteous neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie to insult Conrad. Classic. Especially since she’s having a conversation with Jeremiah, who she watched the movie with years ago. Quoting movies is my go to during friendly banter. While this reference wasn’t incredibly important to the plot, I couldn’t let it go unmentioned.
The movie that was more important was another guilty pleasure, Titanic. I saw it in theater five times, and it was the beginning of my unhealthy Leonardo DiCaprio obsession. I’m talking locate all of the old episodes of Growing Pains he was on and watch them, over and over, even though at times he barely had any screen time. Belly loves Titanic, even though she didn’t want to admit that she still does. She references watching the first part of the movie two times before moving onto the second part, since she wants to wallow in the good and put off the bad for as long as she can. My copy of this movie made that all too easy. Since I had it on VHS, I’d have to switch the tapes out before watching the darker second half. There were definitely times when I only watched the first tape. This is a bit like Belly’s summers. She spends every other season replaying the special events of her past summers in her head, wishing she could get back to the beach where she feels the most alive and surrounded by her favorite people. It’s actually a source of tension between Belly and her best friend from back home, who sometimes feels like a default friend, even though she spends way more time with Belly during the school year.
When it comes to music, Belly mentions a lot of it, but I was tempted to look up Motown. This music solidifies a connection between her and one of her potential love interests in the book, because even though she’s only eleven when it happens, she’ll always remember dancing with him to this music. For Conrad, the dancing is done out of duty, but for her, it is so much more. I don’t know the specific songs she listened to, because I was unable to locate the exact Beach Boogie Shag CD Han mentioned. My searching led to Spotify playlists created of what looked to be similar music. As a result, I picture Belly doing the shag and cuddle with him to songs like “The Oogum Boogum Song” by Brenton Wood and “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by J.A.Y and the Techniques, as she over analyzes the words coming out of the speakers as if they automatically apply to her and Conrad. We’ve all had moments like this. For me, it was at a homecoming dance when I was a sophomore in high school. The dance was filled with promise, at least in my head.
Belly imagines she’s casting a spell on Conrad, like Wood describes, hoping she has him in a trance, like he does her; wishing she really is making him crazy for her. And if she only knew how true the words of J.A.Y. and the Techniques would feel later on:
Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie
You were young and so was I
Now that we’re grown up it seems
You just keep ignoring me, oh, oh
I’ll find you anywhere you go
Ahhh, music, so powerful when it comes to reminding us of vivid feelings.
Food is another driving force in my writing, so I always appreciate it when it pops up in the books written by others. So many types of food are embedded in The Summer I Turned Pretty. There are numerous yummy seafood meals to consider, since Belly is, after all, at the beach. However, the meal that stood out to me the most was a simple one- blueberry muffins. She makes muffins with Susannah, the mother of both of the boys she cares about, during a particularly hard time. She’s confused about her feelings, but she’s also feeling guilty about her choices during the summer, and unsure about where to go from here. She spends the morning with Susannah looking for comfort and hope as they spend time together completing the simple task of baking. As a reader, you know there are big moments yet to come. Fortunately for us, Belly’s journey is full of them, and they will keep you coming back for more.
There you have it. Put on some Beach Shag music, whip up some blueberry muffins, and then settle in for a double feature of The Breakfast Club and Titanic– at least the first half- and think about Belly, even after you’ve finished the book.
If you haven’t already read The Summer I Turned Pretty, what are you waiting for? If you already have, why not pick it up again? Either way, take my advice when you do- don’t just read it, experience it!