The Summer I Turned Pretty has everything that I like in a YA book: the beach, a cool narrator, crushworthy guys, and sadness. I wish I could remember who recommended it to me so I could hug them.
Belly's life has always revolved around her summers at the beach with her brother and their family friends, Jeremiah and Conrad. Through flashbacks, the reader learns of Belly's lifelong love for Conrad, as well as her flirtatious and sweet friendship with Jeremiah. During her 16th summer, all of Belly's relationships change, and none of the changes is easy.
The characterization in the novel is wonderful, particularly the adults. Belly's mother breaks the mold of a typical YA mom; she is quietly devoted and mysterious. My favorite character was Jeremiah and Conrad's mother, Susannah. She is fun, thoughtful, and generous--the kind of woman that all teenagers wish they had in their lives. As a "mature" reader (ahem), I quickly tired of Conrad's moodiness, but can understand why that appealed to Belly. I also found Belly's desire to change her role to be realistic. She wanted to be accepted by the boys, but kept slipping into the position of "kid sister". At times, I wanted to shake her and say, "They are never going to like you if you keep sticking your tongue out at them!" Belly's flaws make her more dynamic and surprising.
Finally, how gorgeous is the cover? It looks like a book that has been left on the windowsill of a beach house, faded and welcoming. The plus side of reading a novel two years after it was published means that both sequels are already available. I am going to start It's Not Summer Without You as soon as I post this.