Jenny Han has an extraordinary capacity to write memorable, familiar characters that resonate with readers. Her Summer series is so captivating and nostalgia-inducing, she became one of my favorite authors. Somehow, she manages to capture the specific feeling and conflicts of growing up, whether they be love, responsibility and maturity, or friendships gone awry. I love everything she’s written, even her novel for older elementary readers, Shug, and I am so excited to share with you a fantastic author who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person (though she really wouldn’t remember me!).
This series is my favorite of all of Jenny Han’s books, and one that I think would be hard not to like for any girl!
Isabel, or Belly as she is known, loves summer and lives for the time when she can go to the beach with her family and her mom’s best friend, Susannah, and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. With Belly’s older brother, Steven, in cahoots with the boys, Belly is everyone’s kid sister, despite that she’s got a huge crush on brooding Conrad, the eldest who’s taken with drinking and girls lately. This summer is finally different, as Belly gains a new love and reflects on how much she’s changed from summers before. Now, she is no longer Belly, the tagalong. She is maturing into a woman who boys are interested in, including her almost-brother Jeremiah. However, this is a summer of change for much more than Belly as she finally pays attention to much deeper issues surrounding their two families and the secrets that everyone might be hiding. As with all growing up, there’s no going back.
The summers of the past are gone for Belly and her family. Instead, Susannah, her mother’s best friend, is dead and so is their tradition of beachside retreats as the house is in limbo and the boys are mourning, meanwhile Belly is nursing her own broken heart. With Conrad still acting out of character, he goes further and shuts everyone out. However, when he suddenly goes missing from school, Jeremiah calls Belly for help and they track him back to their beach house. Stuck in the house with two emotionally charged young men, Belly is caught between them and the flood of memories that return. It’s new, this season of grief, but perhaps something good may come with the magic of the summer house once again.
In the third and final volume, Belly has just finished her freshman year of college and, continuing her romance with Jeremiah despite a few hiccups, they decide to get married. With pressure from their families and Belly’s former feelings for Conrad, things aren’t so simple. Belly has always known she would marry one of the two Fisher boys, and ever since her relationship with Conrad fell through, she’s been with Jeremiah. However, when Conrad shows up, it’s up to Belly to choose what future she really desires amidst wedding preparations and the strong dreams of youth. Belly’s friend Taylor, whom we’ve met in earlier books, enters the fray to help guide her decisions.
Lara Jean has spent her whole life being taken care of by her sister Margot, but as Margot leaves for college, it’s up to Lara Jean to be the woman of the household and take care of her father and younger sister, Kitty. Lara Jean has mostly no idea what she’s doing, and her confusion builds when the love letters that were in hidden in her secret hatbox are sent out. 5 letters, 5 boys, and one of them is Margot’s recently dumped boyfriend Josh, whom Lara Jean has crushed on forever, even before Josh-and-Margot became Josh-and-Margot. The letters were never meant to be sent and are full of embarrassing things that describe what Lara Jean loved about each of the boys. When Lara Jean discovers the incident through Peter, she immediately concocts a plan to keep Josh from discovering she still loves him. The plan? With Peter recently broken up with his long-time controlling girlfriend (and widely proclaimed she-devil) Genevieve and Lara Jean wanting to hide her feelings for Josh, Lara Jean and Peter begin “dating”, in name only; except as Peter comes around more, things get confusing between pretend relationship and real. Lara Jean has never needed her big sister’s advice more, yet as she discovers, it’s time to make your own choices and they just might be something great and new all her own.
Burn for Burn trilogy with Siobhan Vivian
Three senior girls come together by accident to exact revenge on those who’ve wronged them. On tiny (fictional) Jar Island in New England, Lillia, Kat, and Mary are drawn together by their fierce need to right the wrongs. Lillia’s boy crush is hiding a relationship with Lillia’s little sister, and Lillia wants Alex to know he just can’t hook up with whomever he wants, especially not her sister. Kat’s tired of being a scapegoat for Rennie, Lillia’s best friend, and decides she’s not going to take it anymore. Mary is finally back on Jar Island, and is determined to make middle school bully, Reeve, pay for how he’s treated her. As their plans are set in motion, they find they are capable of more than they originally thought, and there’s no backing down when things go awry.
Although they thought they had gotten Reeve, it seems they haven’t done enough as he still didn’t apologize to Mary when he saw her. Although it’s been awhile since the Homecoming incident, everything seems to have gone back to normal, all except for Rennie and Reeve. They are treating Lillia like she’s a leper, much to the embarrassment of their friends. To try and get closer to Reeve, Lillia begins attempting to conquer her fear of water and trains for the swim test, a graduation requirement. Still out for revenge, Mary and Kat convince Lillia to break Reeve’s heart, and she’s okay with it…at first. Until Reeve starts showing that he really does have a heart and care. Then, it’s Lillia who’s faced with a few decisions. Does she break Reeve’s heart and thereby break her own? Or does she break those of her friends who’ve had her back? No one is prepared for the consequences in the final chapters of this book.
In this series finale, the emotionally charged disaster at the end of Fire with Fire has pushed all the characters to the edge of a breaking point. Dealing with Rennie’s absence creates a brief respite for the impending revenge of Mary, now revealed to be a malevolent spirit rather than a wounded girl. Kat and Lillia have no idea of this, as they each confront their feelings and the big choices standing in their way. Lillia questions her feelings for Reeve, her betrayal of Mary, her friendships without Rennie, and her future. Kat wrestles with her secret friendship with Rennie and what that means for her other new friends. With the impending letter from Oberlin, Kat’s strong-willed determination to keep her friendship with Lillia and their pact is inspiring. Meanwhile, Mary’s intentions towards Reeve turn murderous, first as she attempts to kill him herself and then as she tries to drive him towards suicide. Will Kat and Lillia save Reeve in time or will everything end in ashes? This exciting conclusion to the series will make you race to the end.
My True Love Gave to Me (with other authors)
Lastly, perfect for the holiday season, My True Love Gave to Me is a compilation with other well-known YA authors. 12 stories of magic and love, modern and fairytale, from raucous parties to traditional first loves bound in one volume of holiday cheer just begging to be read by a fireside with a cup of hot cocoa. Other authors are Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Pena, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White. Have fun guessing whose couple is who on the front cover.
A few of my favorites were (obvs!) Jenny Han, Kelly Link, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Kiersten White, Myra McEntire, and Ally Carter’s, but they were all lively and entertaining, some with twists you never would expect…
Check a few of these titles out, and have a Merry Christmas (or insert other holiday-themed greeting here)!