Can summer be truly summer without Cousins Beach?
It used to be that Belly counted the days until summer, until she was back at Cousins Beach with Conrad and Jeremiah. But not this year. Not after Susannah got sick again and Conrad stopped caring. Everything that was right and good has fallen apart, leaving Belly wishing summer would never come.
But when Jeremiah calls saying Conrad has disappeared, Belly knows what she must do to make things right again. And it can only happen back at the beach house, the three of them together, the way things used to be. If this summer really and truly is the last summer, it should end the way it startedat Cousins Beach.
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It’s Not Summer Without You
It was a hot summer day in Cousins. I was lying by the pool with a magazine on my face. My mother was playing solitaire on the front porch, Susannah was inside puttering around the kitchen. She’d probably come out soon with a glass of sun tea and a book I should read. Something romantic.
Conrad and Jeremiah and Steven had been surfing all morning. There’d been a storm the night before. Conrad and Jeremiah came back to the house first. I heard them before I saw them. They walked up the steps, cracking up over how Steven had lost his shorts after a particularly ferocious wave. Conrad strode over to me, lifted the sweaty magazine from my face, and grinned. He said, “You have words on your cheeks.”
I squinted up at him. “What do they say?”
He squatted next to me and said, “I can’t tell. Let me see.” And then he peered at my face in his serious Conrad way. He leaned in, and he kissed me, and his lips were cold and salty from the ocean.
Then Jeremiah said, “You guys need to get a room,” but I knew he was joking. He winked at me as he came from behind, lifted Conrad up, and launched him into the pool.
Jeremiah jumped in too, and he yelled, “Come on, Belly!”
So of course I jumped too. The water felt fine. Better than fine. Just like always, Cousins was the only place I wanted to be.
“Hello? Did you hear anything I just said?”
I opened my eyes. Taylor was snapping her fingers in my face. “Sorry,” I said. “What were you saying?”
I wasn’t in Cousins. Conrad and I weren’t together, and Susannah was dead. Nothing would ever be the same again. It had been—How many days had it been? How many days exactly?—two months since Susannah had died and I still couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t let myself believe it. When a person you love dies, it doesn’t feel real. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. It’s someone else’s life. I’ve never been good with the abstract. What does it mean when someone is really and truly gone?
Sometimes I closed my eyes and in my head, I said over and over again, It isn’t true, it isn’t true, this isn’t real. This wasn’t my life. But it was my life; it was my life now. After.
I was in Marcy Yoo’s backyard. The boys were messing around in the pool and us girls were lying on beach towels, all lined up in a row. I was friends with Marcy, but the rest, Katie and Evelyn and those girls, they were more Taylor’s friends.
It was eighty-seven degrees already, and it was just after noon. It was going to be a hot one. I was on my stomach, and I could feel sweat pooling in the small of my back. I was starting to feel sun-sick. It was only the second day of July, and already, I was counting the days until summer was over.
“I said, what are you going to wear to Justin’s party?” Taylor repeated. She’d lined our towels up close, so it was like we were on one big towel.
“I don’t know,” I said, turning my head so we were face-to-face.
She had tiny sweat beads on her nose. Taylor always sweated first on her nose. She said, “I’m going to wear that new sundress I bought with my mom at the outlet mall.”
I closed my eyes again. I was wearing sunglasses, so she couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or not anyway. “Which one?”
“You know, the one with the little polka dots that ties around the neck. I showed it to you, like, two days ago.” Taylor let out an impatient little sigh.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, but I still didn’t remember and I knew Taylor could tell.
I started to say something else, something nice about the dress, but suddenly I felt ice-cold aluminum sticking to the back of my neck. I shrieked and there was Cory Wheeler, crouched down next to me with a dripping Coke can in his hand, laughing his head off.
I sat up and glared at him, wiping off my neck. I was so sick of today. I just wanted to go home. “What the crap, Cory!”
He was still laughing, which made me madder.
I said, “God, you’re so immature.”
“But you looked really hot,” he protested. “I was trying to cool you off.”
I didn’t answer him, I just kept my hand on the back of my neck. My jaw felt really tight, and I could feel all the other girls staring at me. And then Cory’s smile sort of slipped away and he said, “Sorry. You want this Coke?”
I shook my head, and he shrugged and retreated back over to the pool. I looked over and saw Katie and Evelyn making what’s-her-problem faces, and I felt embarrassed. Being mean to Cory was like being mean to a German shepherd puppy. There was just no sense in it. Too late, I tried to catch Cory’s eye, but he didn’t look back at me.
In a low voice Taylor said, “It was just a joke, Belly.”
I lay back down on my towel, this time faceup. I took a deep breath and let it out, slowly. The music from Marcy’s iPod deck was giving me a headache. It was too loud. And I actually was thirsty. I should have taken that Coke from Cory.
Taylor leaned over and pushed up my sunglasses so she could see my eyes. She peered at me. “Are you mad?”
“No. It’s just too hot out here.” I wiped sweat off my forehead with the back of my arm.
“Don’t be mad. Cory can’t help being an idiot around you. He likes you.”
“Cory doesn’t like me,” I said, looking away from her. But he sort of did like me, and I knew it. I just wished he didn’t.
“Whatever, he’s totally into you. I still think you should give him a chance. It’ll take your mind off of you-know-who.”
I turned my head away from her and she said, “How about I French braid your hair for the party tonight? I can do the front section and pin it to the side like I did last time.”
“What are you going to wear?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, you have to look cute because everybody’s gonna be there,” Taylor said. “I’ll come over early and we can get ready together.”
Justin Ettelbrick had thrown a big blowout birthday party every July first since the eighth grade. By July, I was already at Cousins Beach, and home and school and school friends were a million miles away. I’d never once minded missing out, not even when Taylor told me about the cotton candy machine his parents had rented one year, or the fancy fireworks they shot off over the lake at midnight.
It was the first summer I would be at home for Justin’s party and it was the first summer I wasn’t going back to Cousins. And that, I minded. That, I mourned. I’d thought I’d be in Cousins every summer of my life. The summer house was the only place I wanted to be. It was the only place I ever wanted to be.
“You’re still coming, right?” Taylor asked me.
“Yeah. I told you I was.”
Her nose wrinkled. “I know, but—” Taylor’s voice broke off. “Never mind.”
I knew Taylor was waiting for things to go back to normal again, to be like before. But they could never be like before. I was never going to be like before.
I used to believe. I used to think that if I wanted it bad enough, wished hard enough, everything would work out the way it was supposed to. Destiny, like Susannah said. I wished for Conrad on every birthday, every shooting star, every lost eyelash, every penny in a fountain was dedicated to the one I loved. I thought it would always be that way.
Taylor wanted me to forget about Conrad, to just erase him from my mind and memory. She kept saying things like, “Everybody has to get over a first love, it’s a rite of passage.” But Conrad wasn’t just my first love. He wasn’t some rite of passage. He was so much more than that. He and Jeremiah and Susannah were my family. In my memory, the three of them would always be entwined, forever linked. There couldn’t be one without the others.
If I forgot Conrad, if I evicted him from my heart, pretended like he was never there, it would be like doing those things to Susannah. And that, I couldn’t do.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy
by Jenny Han
ABOUT THE BOOKS
For Belly, summertime means all her favorite things: swimming, the beach, and the Fisher boys, Conrad and Jeremiah. She has spent summers with the Fisher family at Cousins Beach for as long as she can remember. Belly has always been in love with Conrad, and finally, one fateful summer, it seems like he might have feelings for her, too. But it turns out, so does Jeremiah.
Belly soon realizes she has to choose between the two brothers who love her, and in doing so, will have to break one of their hearts.
Against the backdrop of growing up, changing family dynamics, laughter and loss comes a poignant and relatable trilogy about a girl learning what it means to love.
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
1. The Summer I Turned Pretty begins with a short scene prior to the first chapter. How did you interpret it? Why do you think Jenny Han introduces the book this way?
2. We get a great feel for the house at Cousins Beach in the very first chapter. How does Jenny Han use all five senses to describe the novel’s setting? Describe similar examples of writing craft throughout the book.
3. What does “pretty” mean, with respect to the title of the book? How would Belly define “pretty”? How do you define “pretty”? Is there a difference between “pretty” and “beautiful”?
Consider these references:
· “She shook her head like she was in awe of me. ‘You’re so pretty, so pretty. You’re going to have an amazing, amazing summer. It’ll be a summer you’ll never forget.”
· “It was the summer I turned pretty.”
· “This was Cam, a real guy who had noticed me even before I was pretty.”
· “‘No.’ Cam ran his hand through his hair. He wouldn’t look at me. ‘It’s because I thought you were really pretty. Like, maybe the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.’”
· “Cam looked perplexed. ‘Why? Your nose is cute. It’s the imperfections that make things beautiful.”
· “He was the first boy to tell me I was beautiful.”
4. The Summer I Turned Pretty is told in the first person from Belly’s perspective, apparently in retrospect. When is the “now” from which she’s narrating? How do you know? How might the story have been different if Jenny Han had written the novel in third person?
5. Chapters alternate between past and present—between significant memories from earlier summers and current experiences. What purpose do these flashbacks serve?
6. In what ways does each person in the house (Jeremiah, Conrad, Susannah, and Laurel) play a particular “role”—in the story, overall, and in Belly’s life? How does the dynamic change when Steven leaves? How might the atmosphere have been different if Mr. Fisher had visited, or even Belly and Steven’s father?
7. “I was getting older too. Things couldn’t stay the same forever.” What do you think Jenny Han is suggesting here? Recall a time in your life when you realized you were growing up, and how that felt.
8. Belly and the boys love playing “Would You Rather.” Borrowing Jeremiah’s example, “Would you rather live one perfect day over and over or live your life with no perfect days but just decent ones?” What do you think? How do these competing scenarios relate to the issues Belly faces? If asked again at the very end of the summer, do you think Belly would stick with her original answer (for just decent days)?
9. What is the turning point in Belly and Conrad’s relationship? Were you surprised by the direction it took?
10. When did you start to think there might be something seriously wrong with Susannah, and/or the family’s situation? What were the signs?
11. Explain Belly’s feelings for Cam over the course of the novel. Did she ever really like him? What stopped her, ultimately, from falling in love with him?
Consider these examples of Belly’s observations about Cam:
· “But there was something about him that seemed safe and comfortable.”
· “He’d probably meet some random homeless guy and become best friends with him, and then he’d tell me the man’s life story the next day. Not that there were any homeless guys on our end of the beach. Not that I’d ever seen a homeless person in Cousins, for that matter. But if there was, Cam would find him.”
· “I ran up to the front door, and I didn’t have to turn around to know that Cam would wait until I was inside before he drove away.”
· “Here I had this really great guy who actually liked me.”
12. What’s the point of including Belly’s childhood friend, Taylor, in The Summer I Turned Pretty? How did Jenny Han use Taylor to help the reader get to know Belly better?
13. “The old pull, the tide drawing me back in. I kept getting caught in this current—first love, I mean. First love kept making me come back to this, to him. He still took my breath away, just being near him. I had been lying to myself the night before, thinking I was free, thinking I had let him go. It didn’t matter what he said or did, I’d never let him go.” Do you identify with Jenny Han’s powerful description of first love? Discuss the difference between crushes and love. How might Belly differentiate the two?
14. Susannah jokes about her cancer. What was the effect of this comedic moment on the characters in the novel? How did it affect you, as a reader?
15. Which of Belly’s three love interests in The Summer I Turned Pretty did you like best—Conrad, Jeremiah, or Cam? Compare and contrast, then come up with a list of qualities for an ideal summer romance!
16. Discuss the ending. What’s happened? What do you think will happen from here?
It’s Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
1. It’s Not Summer Without You opens on a sad note. We learn that Belly and Conrad are not together, and that Susannah has passed away. How were you affected by this beginning? In what way did Jenny Han continue Belly’s story from The Summer I Turned Pretty, and in what way did she introduce a whole new story in the sequel?
2. We see much more of Taylor in It’s Not Summer Without You. How would you characterize Belly’s friendship with Taylor? What role does Taylor play in Belly’s life? Where do you see their friendship going from here—do you imagine them staying friends like Laurel and Susannah or have they already outgrown each other?
Consider these references:
· “But for better or worse, Taylor Jewel was a part of me, and I was a part of her.”
· “I knew that Taylor meant well. She thought she was doing me a favor. Giving up her platform sandals for the night was altruistic, for Taylor. But I was still mad.”
· “Taylor was a crappy friend, not me. She was the selfish one. I was so angry, my hand shook when I put on my eyeliner, and I had to rub it off and start all over again. I wore Taylor’s blouse and her shoes and I pulled my hair all to one side too. I did it because I knew it would piss her off.”
· “But those things she said, they hurt. Maybe they were true. But I didn’t know if I could forgive her for saying them.”
3. Unlike in The Summer I Turned Pretty, we’re presented with a point of view other than just Belly’s—several chapters are written from Jeremiah’s perspective. How does this change your experience as a reader? Do you look at characters or situations any differently, hearing Jeremiah’s side? Why do you think Jenny Han chose to show us Jeremiah’s point of view, and not Conrad’s?
4. How do Belly’s experiences in The Summer I Turned Pretty and in It’s Not Summer Without You represent her coming of age? Is Belly a child, or an adult? Can she be both at one time? At what point does she grow up? What factors have accelerated or delayed her entry into adulthood?
Consider these references:
· “The only person I wanted was Susannah. She was the only one. And then I had a thought, clear as day. I would never be somebody’s favorite again. I would never be a kid again, not in the same way. That was all over now. She was really gone.”
· “So I took [a beer] and walked back outside with it. I sat back down on my deck chair and popped the top off the can. It snapped satisfyingly. It was strange to be in this house alone. Not a bad feeling, just a different one. I’d been coming to this house my whole life and I could count on one hand the number of times I’d be alone in it. I felt older now. Which I suppose I was, but I guess I didn’t remember feeling old last summer.”
· “I waited for him to call me a baby for calling my mommy the second things got scary. He didn’t. Instead he said, ‘Thanks.’ I stared at him. ‘Sometimes you surprise me,’ I said. He didn’t look at me when he said, ‘And you hardly ever surprise me. You’re still the same.’”
· “My mother and Mr. Fisher were drinking coffee the way grown-ups do.”
· “‘You want an old lady like me around?’ she asked. ‘Sure, I’ll be back whenever you have me.’ ‘When?’ he asked. He looked so young, so vulnerable my heart ached a little.”
5. When Belly sees the infinity necklace in Conrad’s drawer, she takes it—impulsively—and puts it on. Why did she do this? Would you have taken the necklace, if you were Belly? What did you think about Belly for doing this?
6. Whereas The Summer I Turned Pretty took place exclusively at Cousins, the events of It’s Not Summer Without You take place in several different settings; Cousins, Belly’s house, Jeremiah and Conrad’s house, and Conrad’s college. Furthermore, the house at Cousins has a very different feel this summer, than it has for the characters in the past. How important is setting, in fiction? How important is setting to this story?
7. How has your opinion about Belly evolved, after reading this sequel? In what ways do you understand her better? In what ways are you disappointed, supportive, surprised, or confused by her actions in the sequel, as compared to The Summer I Turned Pretty?
8. How has Belly’s relationship with her mother changed or remained the same in It’s Not Summer Without You? What are your thoughts and feelings about Laurel, as Belly’s mother, but also as a character in her own right?
Consider these references:
· “I wanted to scream at her, to tell her how insensitive, how cruel she was, and couldn’t she see my heart was literally breaking? But when I looked up at her face, I bit back the words and swallowed them down. She was right.”
· “Everything was wrong, and most of all me. Suddenly I just wanted my mother.”
· “Her words stung me so badly I wanted to hurt her back a million times worse. So I said the thing I knew would hurt her most. I said, ‘I wish Susannah was my mother and not you.’”
· “I looked over at Conrad, and he said in a low voice, to no one in particular, ‘Laurel is amazing.’ I’d never heard anyone describe my mom that way, especially not Conrad. I’d never thought of her as ‘amazing.’ But in that moment, she was. She truly was.”
9. Belly acknowledges her unrequited love for Conrad; “It wasn’t like how it was with Conrad and Aubrey. He’d loved her. Once upon a time, he’d been crazy about her. He had never been that way with me. Never. But I had loved him. I loved him longer and truer than I had anyone in my whole life and I would probably never love anyone that way again. Which, to be honest, was almost a relief.” What does Belly mean here? Do you believe her?
10. Belly and Jeremiah’s kiss was passionate, intense, and immensely meaningful to both of them. Describe a time when you’ve felt like “the earth stopped turning.”
11. Belly returns the infinity necklace that she’d taken from Conrad’s desk. What did this moment signify to Belly? To Conrad? Discuss the symbolism of the necklace.
12. Who is the “you” in the title of the book?
13. Like in The Summer I Turned Pretty, this next book in the series ends with a mysterious preview of what’s to come. “A couple of years later” gives us a snapshot of Belly’s wedding day. Whom do you think she will marry? Why does Jenny Han conclude the novel in this way?
We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
1. We can tell a lot about a person by the company she keeps. In We’ll Always Have Summer, we’re introduced to Belly’s friendship with Anika, in addition to her ongoing friendship with Taylor. How are the friendships similar? How are they different? What roles do Taylor and Anika play, respectively, in Belly’s life, at the time when the novel takes place?
2. When Belly tells Anika about Jeremiah’s infidelity, Anika replies, “Keeping a secret like that from the person you love is probably the worst part.” We learn of several secrets in We’ll Always Have Summer—Jeremiah’s, Belly’s, Conrad’s. How much of what happens in this third novel is influenced by secrets? Is it ever okay to keep secrets? Is it ever okay to keep secrets from the people you love, in particular?
3. We’ll Always Have Summer is the most nostalgic of the three books in Jenny Han’s series. The title evokes the warmth and comforting permanence of memories. Belly is particularly touched by her memories of growing up at Cousins Beach, especially as represented by the images she recalls of Jeremiah and Conrad. Discuss Belly’s reaction to her realization that she’s had the story of Rosie, the dog, all wrong in her memory: “What else had I remembered wrong? I was a person who loved to play Remember When in my head. I’d always prided myself on how I remembered every detail. It scared me to think that my memories could be just ever-so-slightly wrong.” How much of Belly’s love for Jeremiah and Conrad is based on memories? How much weight can we assign to memories, as a foundation for current relationships? What kind of value does Belly put on her memories?
4. Belly’s conflicting feelings for Jeremiah and Conrad come to a head in We’ll Always Have Summer. As Belly grapples with determining how she’s feeling, she’s simultaneously struggling to control her feelings. Is it even possible for people to control love? Discuss what the following quote means to you, and the extent to which you agree that feelings can be safely tucked away.
· “I’d thought my feelings for Conrad were safely tucked away, like my old Rollerblades and the little gold watch my dad bought me when I first learned how to tell time.”
5. Describe your first love. How has this first experience shaped who you are today? Discuss the significance of first love, versus “last” love, as movingly articulated by Belly:
· “Maybe that was how it was with all first loves. They own a little piece of your heart, always. Conrad at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, even seventeen years old. For the rest of my life, I would think of him fondly, the way you do your first pet, the first car you drove. Firsts were important. But I was pretty sure lasts were even more important. And Jeremiah, he was going to be my last and my every and my always.”
6. Taylor insists, “You should have everything you want, Belly . . . You only get married once.” Describe your ideal wedding. What would you prefer to have, but could do without, when push comes to shove? What features of your dream wedding are “deal breakers”—what do you consider absolutely imperative?
7. One of the hardest parts about going away to college—or moving, or simply starting a new school, for that matter—is making friends. Belly is tremendously relieved to be invited to her hallmate’s room to hang out with the girls. She confides, “maybe these were my people.” Who are your people? What qualities do you look for in new friends? What advice would you have shared with Belly for making friends that first semester of college?
8. Belly’s feelings for Conrad are profoundly conflicted throughout the three books in Jenny Han’s series. In regards to whether or not Conrad would attend Belly and Jeremiah’s wedding, Belly admits, “I think I was afraid. Afraid that he was coming and afraid that he wasn’t.” What does she mean by this?
9. Finally, after hearing Belly’s point of view, and then Jeremiah’s beginning, in It’s Not Summer Without You we have a window inside Conrad’s mind. How did your impression of Conrad change at this point? Why do think Jenny Han chose not to feature Conrad’s point of view until now? Why show shifting points of view (besides Belly’s) in the first place—what effect does this have on how you interpret the story?
10. We see Belly’s relationship with her mother evolve throughout the three books in the series. In We’ll Always Have Summer, we’re privy to a compelling power dynamic between mother and daughter that hasn’t been as evident in the past. What is this power dynamic, and to what do you attribute it? How would you characterize the nature of Belly and Laurel’s relationship?
Consider the following examples:
· “And she was bluffing. She had to be bluffing. No matter how upset or disappointed she was in me, I couldn’t believe that she would miss her only daughter’s wedding. I just couldn’t.”
· “Alone in my car again, I cried loud, ragged sobs. I cried until my throat hurt. I was mad at my mom, but bigger than that was this overwhelming, heavy sadness. I was grown up to do things on my own, without her. I could get married, I could quit my job. I was a big girl now. I didn’t have to ask for permission. My mother was no longer all powerful. Part of me wished she could be.”
11. How important is it to you that your family accepts your significant other and the choices you make with him/her? Furthermore, how important is it for you to have your friends’ blessings?
12. Although she attempts to convince herself otherwise, Belly is wrought with guilt following her subtle yet dramatic encounters with Conrad: first with the peaches and then when she nurses his surfing wound. Is Belly’s guilt justified? Why do you think these moments carry such significance for Belly?
13. Conrad asks his former employer and dear friend, Ernie, “Do you really believe in that? That people are meant to be with one person?” How would you answer this question? Do you believe in soul mates, or is it possible to love more than one person over your lifetime? Is it possible to love more than one person at the same time? Belly considers this possibility, when she realizes that she has feelings of love for both Jeremiah and Conrad. How would you explain this?
14. Jenny Han gives us plenty of opportunities to compare and contrast Jeremiah and Conrad—who they are as individuals, as well as who they are as they relate to Belly. Belly is constantly evaluating the two brothers. A few times in We’ll Always Have Summer, she even confuses the two—like when she realizes that it was Conrad who found the dog, Rosie, and not Jeremiah. A similar mix-up occurs at the very end of the book, when Jeremiah opens his letter from Susannah, only to realize that the letter inside was really for Conrad: “My mom must have mixed up the envelopes. In the letter she said she only got to see him in love once. That was with you.” Can you think of other similar mix-ups? What do we learn from these mix-ups?
15. Explain the title of this third book in the series, We’ll Always Have Summer. What does this mean, to you? Who is the “we” referenced? How would you define “summer,” in this context?
16. Finally, after three wonderfully suspenseful and poignant novels, we learn which brother Belly ends up with. Do you think Belly made the right choice? Were you surprised by her choice? Are you satisfied with this ending to the series?
Discussion Questions for the Trilogy
1. On the final page of We’ll Always Have Summer, we learn which brother Belly chooses to spend her life with. Think back to The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You. What clues do you see, in retrospect, which pointed to this end result?
2. Discuss the titles of the three books in Jenny Han’s series. Who is the “I,” “you,” and “we’ll” referenced, respectively? What does summer symbolize to Belly? To you?
3. Which character changed the most over the course of the three books? Which character surprised you the most? With which character do you most closely relate?
4. Contemplate Belly’s experiences from when we meet her in The Summer I Turned Pretty through the final book in the series. How would you characterize her journey, overall? When faced with a tough choice, did she always do the right thing? What were her biggest mistakes? Her greatest successes?
5. What elements of writing craft do you think Jenny Han demonstrated particularly well? How would you characterize her writing?
6. What effect did presenting this story over three books have on you, as a reader? Would the story be any different if it were compressed into one, comprehensive novel?
7. Explore how you think Belly’s life will play out, going forward.
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