UK cover of THAT SUMMER, with a VW bug convertible covered in pink, purple, and yellow psychedelic designs of images from the book

About the Book

Title: That Summer
Published: 1996
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Go British
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Straight Up Dessen
Bonus Factors: Debut Novel, Summer, The Mall, Eff You
Relationship Status: Young Love

Cover Story: Go British

For once, the American version of a Sarah Dessen book actually features the full body AND HEAD of a girl. WHAT! And yet, it’s still sucks Hallmark Special balls. Thankfully, the UK version saves us again, from the same artist who brought us the Truth About Forever cover. Sure, it’s girlie, but the psychedelic vibe, combined with a design that actually has something to do with the storyline (gasp!), has me saying, “Bloody yes!”

The U.S. cover of THAT SUMMER, featuring a girl cartwheeling on the beach, next to the UK cover, with a VW bug convertible painted in purple, pink and yellow psychadelic designs

The Deal:

Whether your adolescence was good or bad, I think there’s one thing everyone misses about being young: SWEET SWEET SUMMER VACAY! Haven misses it too, but she’s actually still a teenager. See, she misses one summer in particular, when her parents were together, and her dad wasn’t cheating with weather girl Lorna Queen, and her older sister Ashley was actually nice to her, because she was in love with a magical boy named Sumner. Haven can’t help but dream about that summer over and over again, especially since her current summer is totally shiteous. Her dad’s about to get married to Lorna (also known as the Weather Pet), her sister’s about to get married to a total wet blanket of a dude, and Haven has to spend all of her time at the mall, selling shoes to bratty kids and their even brattier parents.

Unexpectedly, two people come to town that immediately generate cracks in Haven’s world. One is Gwendolyn Rogers, small-town-girl-turned-supermodel, who has returned home in the wake of some kind of nervous breakdown. The other is Sumner, Ashley’s ex-boyfriend, whose magnetic personality still bears the promise of better, more hopeful times. But the question is–what will these new cracks in Haven’s perspective let in? The light, or the dark?

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Like I would withhold a BFF charm from a Sarah Dessen heroine? PLEASE. Haven is the quintessential Dessen narrator: she’s strong yet insecure, thoughtful yet slightly impulsive, serious yet still a teenage girl. She also feels incredibly awkward, due to her rapidly increasing height and bony, gangly limbs. Translation: she’s like a freaking model and DOESN’T REALIZE IT. Girl obvs needs a friend to tell her that she’s gorgeous and to quit complaining about being tall because hello, Giselle Bundchen is five foot eleven and do you see HER bitching about it? NO. I’d of course also tell her that even though the past was great, her future is incredibly bright, and she’s not gonna be stuck dealing with her screwed up family and screaming kids forever (well, unless she makes unwise contraceptive choices). Haven is sweet and gorgeously reflective, and unlike Casey, her friend in the book, she deserves someone who sees that wonderful future inside of her. SMELL YA LATER, CASEY! There’s a new bestie in town!

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

I have to admit, it’s weird to read a Dessen book with such a low amount of swoon. At the same time, I like it, because it allowed me to focus on Haven and her evolving relationships with her family members. Plus, it doesn’t mean there’s any less feeling in this book, so there were still moments when my heart sighed with nostalgia and longing.

I did have to award a few points to Sumner, though. I mean, the dude has, like, a zillion jobs, all of which are adorably eccentric, including my favorite: HE GETS PAID TO DANCE WITH OLD LADIES. If that’s not an instant swoon, I don’t know what is.

Talky Talk: Straight Up Dessen

As I wrote in my Truth About Forever review, Sarah Dessen basically invented the straight up talky talk, and her style remains one of my all time favorites. Since this is her debut novel (see below), it’s fascinating to experience the roots of her writing. There’s slightly more saccharine than in her later books, but overall, Haven’s voice still rings clean and true, and the jumble of emotions she feels are expressed in simple yet exquisite detail.

Bonus Factor: Debut Novel

So, yeah, this is Sarah Dessen’s debut novel, and it both makes me love her more and also makes me kiiind of hate her because WHO WRITES THIS WELL IN THEIR FIRST BOOK? But ok, I’m kidding, I could never hate Sarah Dessen, because look at her!! LOOK HOW LITTLE SHE IS!!

A photo of a young Sarah Dessen, with dark hair and bangs

Don’t worry, Sarah. 1996 wasn’t a good year for my bangs, either. But you still look super adorbs!!!!!

Bonus Factor: Summer

I know I already talked about missing summer vacation but YOU GUYS I REALLY MISS SUMMER VACATION. And even though Haven has to work, she still has those long warm nights of nothing to do, that freedom of not having anywhere to be except where you want to be, underlined by the security of knowing you can always go home (and not have to pay rent).

I mean, try to read this passage without pulling an old person and saying, “Those were the days!”

It must be something about the heat and the smell of chlorine, fresh-cut grass and honeysuckle, asphalt sizzling after late-day thunderstorms, the steam rising while everything drips around it. Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners and bright plastic flip-flops from the drugstore thwacking down the street… So much in one summer, stirring up like the storms that crest at the end of each day, blowing out all the heat and dirt to leave everything gasping and cool.

Bonus Factor: The Mall

Thanks to Haven’s job, she spends a lot of time at the mall, which Dessen has imagined perfectly with stores bearing such awesomely craptacular names Little Feet (where Haven works), Yogurt Paradise and Personally Personalized. This book left me with a fierce jonesing for Chic-Fil-A and some cheap jewelry from Claire’s.

Bonus Factor: Eff You

Screenshot from Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts tells the snobby boutique lady, "Big mistake, huge," as she shows her all of her shopping bags

In most of Dessen’s books, the heroine has a totally badass “eff you” moment, and it’s great to see the birth of that tradition in this book. Haven’s moment isn’t as triumphant as others, but it does involve throwing a shoe at someone’s head, which is my new life goal AWESOME.

Relationship Status: Young Love

When I met this book the first time, we were both so innocent, our hearts open and vulnerable to the world. I knew from the first few pages that something life-changing was happening, because its words spoke so directly to my heart. Those were simpler times, and as we got older, I moved on to its younger siblings–WHOA, wait, this analogy is kinda turning creepy. Like, does this make me a cougar? Ok, the POINT I’m trying to make is that this book introduced the world (and me) to Sarah Dessen, and for that, I will always cherish it. Sure, I have a stronger connection to some of her later books, but this one… this one was my first. And I’ll never forget it.

FTC Disclosure: I checked this book out from the library. I received neither money nor cocktails in exchange for this review.

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Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.