Thursday, 10 March 2011

Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

Dear Blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She's nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister,the always perfect Ashley,is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley's reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.

Review: I've been kind of ill on and off  over the last week or so, and Pride and Prejudice, which I'm currently reading, wasn't providing the sufficient sort of comfort reading that you need when you're ill.  So after re-reading all the Strawberry Marshmallow books two or three times each, I was like: "I know what I need!  Some Sarah Dessen will do the trick to cheer me up in a way that Elizabeth and Darcy's verbal sparring will not."  And I had That Summer on my bookcase, still unread, so, I read it.  And of course it provided sufficient easy reading.

This is Sarah Dessen's first novel, and was first published back in 1996.  Which means that you can't complain it being formulaic or repetitive, because the formula hadn't been set yet, even though to me it seems like I've read it before [which I haven't]. 
But for all the predictability, there is something refreshing about That Summer, and that's the fact that Haven herself isn't in a relationship. Certainly it might have been interesting if Haven and Sumner had gotten together; (one word: fanfic) but the five-year age gap and the fact that he's Ashley's ex would probably make things...a little awkward.
The story mostly revolves around love and marriage; but it pleased me that none of it was in fact Haven's, and that was entirely effective in making all the aspects of change and moving on all the more powerful. 

Speaking of Haven herself. How does Sarah Dessen do it?  How does she manage to write such convincing, entirely believable voices that have you instantly on the narrator's side? She writes with the wonder and concern of being fifteen and exposed to the big wide world, and the cool, reserved tone of adulthood, which works perfectly for some of her other protagonists, in particular Auden and Macy (Yes, that's my attempt at writing poetically  *awkward turtle*). 
I say that, but.  Every character has their flaws, every character has something that can find irritate the reader, and for me that was how Haven complained about her height on  every other page.  I'm 5'5", which isn't so bad for one of my age,  but height = a definite advantage.  For one thing, it means that you can reach the top shelves in Waterstones.

Haven's various friends and family reminded me a lot of Melinda's in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson,  mostly because I detested all of them at one stage or another.  They frustrated Haven so much; so naturally I wanted them to just stop getting married and take into consideration how she felt about everything. Even her best friend seemed so thoughtless and self-centred.
Sumner, however, was particularly fantastic.  He was crazy and upbeat and...his outlook on the universe was just what Haven needed at the time.  He was, in a word; fun. But not entirely without enough thoughtful, deep substance to make him likeable.  Nay, he seemed to have reasons for the way that he went about life; not just that he couldn't be bothered to conform.

Even though That Summer is very much about moving on and the future, there's a very nostalgic feel about it, for years and summers and loves gone by.  The combination of the two is so balanced, like one can't be experienced without the other. And so the book concludes; Haven  thinks back to when her family was complete, and forward to how it might be.  It was an entirely satisfying (and predictable), but just what I was after, and just how everything should have worked out. 

In three words: sufficient Sarah Dessen.
Recommended for: girls.
Rating: 4.

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