Friday, October 05, 2012

Book Review: That Summer, by Sarah Dessen

Photo by Jason Sturner

Haven has two weddings to attend, and she is not happy about either of them. The book opens as her sports news presenter father is marrying his colleague, meterologist Lorna Queen, and her sister Ashley is planning her wedding, which will take place at the end of the summer. Haven's mother has devoted herself to her garden, and Haven is worried about how quiet the house will become. Then Ashley's ex-boyfriend Sumner Lee returns to town, reminding Haven of a summer a few years before, when her parents were still together and she and Ashley were closer, when she was happier and everything felt more secure. Haven starts to spend more time with Sumner, but everything is not as it seems.

Sumner is a very intriguing character, offbeat and charming, and I thought that Haven's love/hate relationship with her sister was very well described - Ashley is self-assured but also frequently irritating and her motives and decisions are as unclear to us as they are to Haven. I was also really drawn into the side-stories with Haven's best friend, Casey, and the Lakeview Mall Models.

I liked that Sarah Dessen makes you think the book is about one thing, but it turns out to be about something quite different. However, I thought that the execution was a bit muddled. I can see how some readers have been disappointed, especially after reading her later novels. It's not that That Summer is bad, but as teen novels go, it's quite average, and in comparison to Last Chance, the first Sarah Dessen book that I read, it lacks spark and flows awkwardly. Haven is quite a passive character for much of the book - she goes along with everything that happens and doesn't ask for explanations - and it seemed to take a very long time for events to build towards a conclusion and for Haven to get angry and find out the truth.

It's interesting to see where Sarah Dessen started, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Last Chance. I would still recommend That Summer, though if you've never read any Sarah Dessen books before it's probably best to start with one of her more popular titles. I'm looking forward to reading more of her later novels, particularly Just Listen, which so many bloggers have loved.

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