I’m back with another book review! This time it’s That Summer by Sarah Dessen.
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.
After finishing Someone Like You, I decided to read That Summer, the second book in the How to Deal tie-in. As with Someone Like You, That Summer focuses on a fifteen-year-old girl during summer. In this case, that girl is called Haven McPhail.
Like a lot of teenage girls, Haven feels alone in the world. Her father has just married; her older sister Ashley is preparing for her own wedding and her best friend has just come back from camp and seems like a completely different person. Haven finds solace in Sumner, her favourite out of all of Ashley’s exes. She believes that Sumner will somehow make things better, back to how they were before her dad cheated on her mum, but it doesn’t quite turn out that way.
While Haven is relatable in that she is insecure about her height (although she’s very tall and I’m very short), she is a bit one-dimensional and immature. She doesn’t like the fact that her sister is always getting more attention than her, which is understandable, but it is her wedding after all. I wasn’t that keen on Ashley either. She’s needy, self-centered and too preoccupied with her wedding to realise that Haven needs her. Sumner was probably the most likeable character in That Summer. Nevertheless, I did get a bit fed up with him by the end; he tried to help Haven, but he didn’t really go about it the right way.
Themes explored in That Summer include family, divorce, remarriage and coming of age. That Summer is also about nostalgia – it will make you reminisce about those carefree summers you had as a teenager. The underlying message of the book is that people can change and they don’t always turn out the way we expect.
Although That Summer had a promising premise, not much seemed to happen during the book. There wasn’t anything remarkable or life-changing. I think That Summer would’ve been better as a novella or as part of a short story collection. However, I did enjoy the plot with Sumner. Haven didn’t fall in love with him, which I expected to happen, and he encouraged her to grow up and stop living in a fantasy world.
With this in mind, I’d have to say that That Summer is one of Sarah Dessen’s weaker novels. Which makes sense considering it was the first book she published. But don’t let that put you off. Dessen has definitely improved over the last twenty or so years, and I will continue to read her books (Saint Anything and Once and For All are already on my list for this year, and I’m planning to read the rest of her novels – Along For the Ride, Dreamland, What Happened to Goodbye, Keeping the Moon, The Moon and More – next year). I urge you to do so too.
Have you read any of Sarah Dessen’s novels? What are you reading at the moment?