If you asked me what my favourite kind of fiction is, after much deliberation, chances are I would say middle grade. I love reading a wide variety of books, but nothing hits the spot quite like a good coming of age story. My favourites are generally first person, have a contemporary setting, are are both funny and heartbreaking.
One of my favourite authors in this tasty little slice of a genre is Jenny Han. I first fell in love with Han upon reading her sublime middle grade debut novel, Shug. Han manages to take familiar elements, mix them up and re-tell them in the pitch-perfect voice of her protagonist Annemarie. I laughed, I cringed, and I cried, I lived this book. Han is able to transport her reader back to what it felt like to be twelve.
Next, Han wrote a delicious piece of summer confection called The Summer I Turned Pretty. This is for slightly older readers, although there isn’t anything a strong middle grade reader couldn’t handle content-wise. The book makes for breezy reading about Belly, a girl who spends every summer at a beautiful beach house with her brother and the two boys of her mother’s best friend, Suzanne. For most of her life, Belly runs after the boys, desperate to be noticed. Then, one summer, she is noticed. Big time.
It’s Not Summer Withou You is the follow up, due out this summer. It is the middle book in a trio of books about Belly, Jeremiah and Connor. True to form, it takes place during the summer. But this summer everything has changed and Belly and the boys will never be able to experience the summer house in the same way. This book, though quieter that it’s predecessor, is full of the heartache and inevitablility of change.
The Summer books have a healthy dose of flashback to help colour Belly’s summers, her relationships with the boys, and round out her growth as a character. Han touches on some deeper, darker stuff then you might find in other summer romance books, but she handles it delicately and with skill, the overall effect of which is you put down the book feeling satiated instead of hungry for something with a little more substance.
Shug and The Summer I Turned Pretty are available now from Simon and Schuster. It’s Not Summer Without You is due out later this month.