The title of Jennifer Weiner’s That Summer (Atria Books 2021) immediately brought a smile to my face as I recalled another That Summer. When the novel started with “She is fifteen years old that summer,” I was reminded even more of Sarah Dessen’s 1996 novel about fifteen-year-old Haven, a novel set at the beach during the summer “when everything changed.” I’d like to think this novel about two summers on the Cape “when everything changed” was an intentional nod to Dessen and her first novel, and it makes my book dragon heart smile.
Also making my heart smile? The brief mention of the murder of Drue Cavanaugh, the beautiful socialite from Big Summer.
That Summer is told primarily from Daisy and Diana’s points of view. The first part of the novel, after an enticing prologue, is primarily focused on Daisy, and it’s a bit of a slog to get through. As much as I wanted to like Daisy, I couldn’t. She’s just a puff pastry of a character. Her daughter, Beatrice, is the more interesting figure in this section of the novel, but her parts are limited and over-shadowed by Daisy.
When Daisy finally meets Diana, things start to pick up. When Diana gets her voice, the novel roars. The Diana sections are strong and powerful, and I could see her so clearly. While I can appreciate the scene Weiner sets with the first part of the novel, I wish it had been set a bit quicker and that Diana had entered earlier. I also think Beatrice was a missed opportunity. So much went into developing her character as a unique, confident feminist that I was a bit surprised to see how her relationship with the boy at the new school ended and how all her potential just washed away after the secret was exposed.
Much like Big Summer, That Summer is full of secrets, lies and betrayals, some many decades old. There is a lot to unpack and a lot of family drama and trauma. I don’t want to spoil the novel because the unraveling of the lies and secrets is one of its strengths. But I will say that the ending left me angry and unsatisfied. It was as if I’d watched someone prepare a delicious meal only to watch them toss it in the trash; Diana deserved better. So did Danny.
It’s still a captivating read, and once you get past the first part, it sucks you in even if it does leave you angry.
That Summer isn’t as good as Big Summer, but it’s still a solid read.