The Rusty Key's Reviews > We'll Always Have Summer

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
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's review
Apr 04, 2011

really liked it
Read from April 04 to 13, 2011

Reviewed by Rusty Key Writer: Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: Girls, aged 16 and Up for some frank discussions of teen sexuality. And of course, as this is the third book in a series, no one should read it without reading its predecessors first.

One Word Summary: Bittersweet.

For an author, surely there is no greater challenge then closing out a trilogy. How to provide an ending that will be both gratifying to the readers and worthy of your characters? Should all the story lines be brought to an end, or is it better to leave some questions unanswered? Can an ending be happy and realistic at the same time? Does it matter? With the denouement of her ‘Summer Series’, Jenny Han delivers a potent mixture of emotions: the satisfaction of inevitabilities met, and the sadness of reaching an end that you always knew was coming.

In our last glimpse of them, Belly had let her tumultuous relationship with Conrad crash and burn, and made the smart choice by taking up with the sweeter, more harmless of the Fisher brothers, Jeremiah. At the start of We’ll Always Have Summer, two years later in story-world, we find that many things have changed, but in some ways, little has evolved. Now at the end of her freshman year of college, Belly has enjoyed two blissfully tranquil years as Jeremiah’s girlfriend. Rather than aiming higher, Belly opted to go to the same local college as her boyfriend and high school best friend, Taylor. As so many girls do, Belly quickly discovered the inherent pros and cons of going to the college where your older boyfriend had already established himself. Rather than finding her own way, Belly assimilated to Jeremiah’s fraternity lifestyle, often defaulting to hanging out with him over trying to make new friends. But who could blame her? Jeremiah is always loving, always upbeat, always supportive. Why risk rejection when endless fidelity is readily available? Their unblemished happiness has been greatly facilitated by the fact that Conrad is attending medical school on the opposite side of the country.

Of course all this easy happiness couldn’t last forever. While Belly may have thought she was signing up for a pain-free existence by choosing Jeremiah, he is, after all, human. When a devastating secret comes to the surface, Belly and Jeremiah deal with it by clinging to one another and burying their heads deep in the sand. The relationship is subsequently catapulted into a dramatic level of seriousness that throws everyone through a loop. Their decision was made out of love, yes, but also from desperation to shut out the nagging doubts. As the consequences of their choice unfold, and Conrad comes back into the picture, Belly’s fervent convictions come under attack from all sides. More troubling, she begins to realize that her connection to Conrad might not be as dead as she thought.

Full of gasp-out-loud moments, We’ll Always Have Summer provides the full on knock-down drag-out battle in the Conrad-Belly-Jeremiah love triangle that readers have been craving. The reckoning is fraught with betrayal, stubbornness, selfishness, and all the gritty, dirty, emotional messiness that have made Han’s previous books so addicting and so true.

One of the aspects of this book that I found fascinating was the change in the reader’s relationship to Belly and Conrad. Where the previous books were predominantly told from Belly’s point of view, ‘Always’ hands a significant portion of the narration over to Conrad; A character who, up until now, has been kept at a distance. Conrad is the game player, Conrad is the wild card, but at last we’re given insight into his inner workings, only to find he is much more simple than his withdrawn emotional facade implies. Conversely, Belly, who has always been frank with her emotions, spends most of this story deluding herself in an attempt to ignore her true feelings. Because of that deceit she feels further away for most of the plot. Of course it’s apparent to the reader what’s really going on with her, and some of the terrific suspense of the book comes in wondering just how long Belly will keep up the charade, if she’s really stubborn enough to cut her nose to spite her face. Han pulls off the divide between the wants of Belly’s heart and head quite convincingly.

While many teens might spend the first two books of this series envious of Belly and her life-long relationships with these attractive older guys, Always casts their emotional entanglements in a darker shade as the role of inevitability steps forward. In spite of their best efforts to change, the three characters are forever drawn back to one another by a tide beyond their control. The notion of fate may seem romantic, but its consequence is the loss of free will. Is it kismet for Belly and the Fishers, or are they damned? Is she forever enraptured or forever haunted? The concept of infinity as it’s used in Always can be seen as both reassuring and unsettling. Really? This? Forever? Could life have been richer for Belly without the Fishers? A journey, rather than a merry-go-round? Belly’s seeming inability to successfully bring any kind of newness into her life feels somewhat sad, a steep price to pay for endless love. We find that Belly spends some time abroad, but even in a foreign country, letters from one of the Fisher boys find her and draw her back. From beyond the grave the Fisher matriarch, Susannah, manages to reach out and effect Belly’s decisions. One imagines future conversations between Belly and her best friend Taylor: Taylor, whose life is uncharted, unmoored to romantic attachments, full of excitement and the wisdom that comes from a variety of experiences, and Belly, who will forever be talking about the Fishers.

It’s a tremendous credit to Han that at every turn ‘The Summer Series’ is more than what it appears as on paper. I’ve talked a lot about these books in the last year and my way of describing them is always ‘Well, it’s a love triangle, yet somehow manages to seem completely fresh and different.” How could that be? We’ve seen love triangles in every form: in a future distopia, in an ancient past, in outer space, with vampires, werewolves, angles, zombies, every different variation that you could possibly shake out of the Yahtzee cup. So how is this different? Rather than adding extraneous ingredients that ultimately dilute the emotional truth, Han boils the story down, distills it to its essential components and delivers something far more concentrated and impacting. Yet, even in its most crystallized form, this love story gives no easy answers, opening up to reveal the immense complexity of these intermingled lives the further you dissect them.

Like the cool wind that heralds the end of the season, it was quite sad turning the final pages We’ll Always Have Summer, ending one of those divine reading experiences where you truly can not wait to see what the author has in store for you next. We can only hope that, while the Summer may be over for Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah, we may yet have many more adventures with Jenny Han that capture some of the vivacity, authenticity and sweeping romance found in this fine teen series.

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message 1: by Fred (new) - added it

Fred That's a thoughtful and insightful review. Maybe I was too harsh in my reaction, but I'm still upset with how these beloved characters were treated in this sequel. Somehow, knowing the reasons Conrad acted like a jerk doesn't make him any less a jerk, in my simplistic opinion.

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