Thursday, August 1, 2013
Rachel Rambles About Rereading 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.
I'm sure most of you guys are familiar with my love of Sarah Dessen by now. She's one of my favorite authors ever, and I always make it a point to reread at least a few of her books every year, especially in the summer. I've said it a thousand times before, but I'll say it again: it's not summer without Sarah Dessen.
So this year, I decided to pick up That Summer. It had been the only Sarah Dessen book that I hadn't read multiple times, and in the years since I'd read it for the first time, I'd forgotten a lot of the details. So I picked it up again, expecting the short and sweet book I'd remembered from my first experience.
But it was almost like I was reading a completely different book this time around. For some reason, as I was reading this again, I found the story a thousand times more powerful than I'd found it before. Sure, it's short--not even 200 pages--but it has so much to offer in those pages.
My experience rereading That Summer was a personal one. When I'd read it for the first time, I was probably about twelve or thirteen. I was reading about a main character who was older than me, and back then, being fifteen was a totally foreign concept. But when I read it again, I was sixteen, with being fifteen just an image in the rear view mirror. Haven wasn't some older and more mature character I couldn't begin to understand, Haven was a younger character who was a lot like me when I was fifteen. Suddenly, instead of looking forward into what my life might be like when I was a few years older, I was looking back at what my life actually had been like a few years ago.
What amazed me most about That Summer is how accurate it was. I know everyone doesn't have the same experience as a teenager, but I found it incredibly easy to relate to Haven. I knew exactly what she was going through with her friends and family and life in general. And even though it had only been a short period of time since I was her age, I found that I'd forgotten a lot of what it was like to be fifteen. So the fact that Sarah Dessen, an adult, remembered so much of what it was like to be fifteen was amazing. Sarah Dessen perfectly captured what it felt like to be fifteen-years-old, and even though it seems like a simple concept, I thought it was so impressive. That Summer blew my mind with just how accurate it was.
Since That Summer is Sarah Dessen's first book (fun fact: it was published the year I was born), there are a few things different about it from the sort of Sarah Dessen formula everyone loves and is familiar with. First of all, there's no real romantic relationship. But there shouldn't have been, because That Summer was not a story with room for a romance. That Summer was about a normal teenage girl struggling with normal teenage girl things. Haven was dealing with her parent's divorce and her new step mother and her older sister's upcoming wedding and her best friend falling in and out of love for the first time. These are all simple things that a lot of teenagers struggle with at one point, so the plot of That Summer is not all that unique or unusual.
But Sarah Dessen's ability to capture a specific time period in Haven's life--a summer--is the best thing about this book. It doesn't matter that the story isn't anything new. What matters is that it's easy to relate to, and nothing in it seems fake. The story feels real, like Haven is a real girl, or maybe even like Haven is me. Sarah Dessen's portrayal of her life is honest and accurate, and there's something so special about the way she tells the story of a fifteen-year-old so flawlessly. Haven's life is messy, but not in an over-complicated way. It's messy simply because she's a teenager and that's what being a teenager is like.
I was blown away by this book. That Summer is so simple, but I think its simplicity is what makes it beautiful. To be honest, I don't know how many other people will share my feelings about this book. When I first read it, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't all that impressed. My experience rereading it changed everything for me, and a lot of it had to do with where I had been in my life compared to where I am now. I can't tell you that you'll love this book as much as I do, but that's okay. I'm not so much recommending this book to you as I am telling you about this amazing experience I had with it.
That's why I love rereading books so much. You get something different from your experience every single time. Rereading a book can be a beautiful and extraordinary experience, and I'm so glad I decided to reread That Summer. I could never have guessed when I picked it up again that I would feel such a strong connection to this story, and my feelings about this book surprised me so much. Rather than tell you to read That Summer, I want to tell you to reread a book you haven't read in years. Maybe something you haven't even thought about in a long time. Maybe something you haven't read since you were a kid. Whatever it is, I can't tell you that you'll have the same experience as I did with That Summer, but I can tell you that you'll get something different out of your experience the second (or third or fourth or fifth or hundreth) time around.