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Review of "That Summer"

By Sarah Dessen
Listening Library, 1998
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 5th 2003
That Summer

In That Summer, 15-year-old Haven does a lot of growing up.  This is partly physical ? she is already tall and she just keeps on shooting up.  Mostly, though, it is emotionally.  The summer starts out with her TV-sports-reporter father marrying his new wife, the weathergirl on the same news show.  Haven remains stoic through the event, conscious of the pain that her father had caused her mother in leaving her for the younger woman.  But the main event of the summer will be her sister Ashley's wedding.  Her household is in constant turmoil with all the preparations, and Haven herself is more anxious about it than she likes to admit.  Once her sister leaves home, she will be left alone with her mother, and she is not thrilled about this.  She is also unsure whether her sister is making the right decision in marrying Lewis Warsher, who seems far duller than some of Ashley's previous boyfriends.  When Ashley's old boyfriend Sumner Lee returns to town, Haven reminisces how charismatic he was and how he seemed a far better partner for her sister.  The stage is set for the summer's big plans to be upset.

The most impressive feature of Sarah Dressen's novel is that the important changes that do occur are in Haven, whose experiences lead her to a more realistic understanding of relationships.  The novel proceeds at a brisk pace, with interwoven subplots concerning her job at the mall, her mother facing her future as a divorced woman, and her father's new marriage.  Haven tells her story vividly, and it is easy to sympathize with her feelings of awkwardness about her appearance.  One of the most memorable scenes is at the mall, at a pageant for local models, where the guest of honor is a now-famous woman who came from the region.  When the event ends dramatically, it clear that the young woman has sacrificed a great deal for her success.  As a coming-of-age novel set firmly in the middle class American suburbs, That Summer is a nice example of the genre for young adults.  The unabridged audiobook is read by Mia Baron, who does an excellent job. 


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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