This was the second Sarah Dessen book I read , and it was more the flavour of what I had been expecting from the first. That said, though, it lacked something of the power that Just Listen did, and so I found myself disappointed in this account of Haven during that summer. On the plus side, though, it didn’t upset me the way Just Listen did, so I guess that’s a plus for That Summer!
For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She’s nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister—the always perfect Ashley—is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley’s reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.
That Summer is Sarah Dessen’s first book, and it shows – the writing isn’t as powerful as in her later offerings, the characterisation is weaker, and the book is just less interesting. That Summer lacks any real conflict, and is just about a girl coming to terms with the changes in her life. While it’s sweet, and there’s nothing really objectionable about it, That Summer just doesn’t have any real distinguishing characteristics. If Sarah Dessen’s books were ice cream, That Summer would be vanilla – and not the rich, creamy, Devonshire or Cornish vanilla, but just your bog-standard with nothing to really recommend it. The characters aren’t that interesting, or indeed really believable, it’s never explained why, exactly, Ashley thinks getting married at 21 is a good idea, and Haven doesn’t really grow up in any real way – plus, when her sister’s impending wedding was such a major plot point, you would think that the relationship between the sisters would have been explored more, but it really wasn’t – Ashley was just a stressed out bride-to-be, with no time for her younger sister. Haven’s idealism and struggles with the changes of the summer are at times understandable, and relatable, but this doesn’t really feel like a coming of age book, which is what it’s certainly supposed to be. Besides that, lots of threads are left unresolved, including Haven’s father, stepmother, impending half-sibling, etc. Refreshing, though, to see a coming of age book which doesn’t revolve around a boyfriend – although it does revolve around a boy friend.
Not a bad book, but I know Dessen is capable of much more, so it gets a very middling score.