81 pages 2 hours read

Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


The Summer I Turned Pretty, published by Simon & Schuster, is a 2009 novel by author Jenny Han. A young adult romance, The Summer I Turned Pretty follows Isabel “Belly” Conklin’s journey to adulthood over one unforgettable summer. As Belly navigates the challenges of growing up and her first love, she recalls moments from summers past that have affected her relationship with the Fisher brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly learns that change is inevitable and what it means to take risks for what one wants. This study guide refers to the S&S Books for Young Readers, Reprint edition.

Plot Summary

Belly Conklin and her family have spent every summer of her life with her mother’s best friend’s family at their house at Cousins Beach. Growing up, Belly struggled with being the youngest and the only girl among the four kids, feeling left out or like she somehow did not belong. This summer, however, Belly can sense that everything will be different. When Belly and her family arrive at the Fishers’ house, she sees that both sons, Conrad and Jeremiah, notice that she has grown up in the last year, and their attention causes Belly to believe that this will be a summer she will never forget.

Belly explains the history between her family and the Fishers: her mother, Laurel, and Susannah “Beck” Fisher met in college and have remained best friends ever since. Susannah has predicted since Belly’s birth that she will end up with one of her sons. Belly has had a crush on the older son, Conrad, for years, while she views the younger, Jeremiah, as her best friend. This summer, she notices that both boys have done some growing up: Jeremiah looks leaner and broader from football, while Conrad has quit football and has become more brooding and closed-off.

On her first night at the house, Belly and Conrad share a moment. Sneaking downstairs to go swimming after dark because she can’t sleep, Belly is surprised to re-surface and find Conrad sitting at the pool, smoking a cigarette and watching her. Again, she senses a distinct change in Conrad’s behavior and overall mood but notes that her feelings for Conrad and his effect on her remain the same.

Conrad is not the only thing different at Cousins Beach this year. Belly notices that Mr. Fisher, Susannah’s husband, is notably absent, citing work issues. Belly’s brother, Steven, will also have a short-lived stay at the beach this year, as he plans to leave early to go on a college tour with their father. Belly explains that her parents are divorced, which is partly why she loves the beach so much because it gives her an escape from her regular life.

The first real indication that something is different between Belly and Jeremiah comes when they go to the movies together. Unable to stomach the romantic comedy, Steven leaves after a few minutes, while Jeremiah offers to stay with Belly and gets them snacks. During the film, Jeremiah smiles at Belly, and she suddenly feels he wants to kiss her, which is surprising to Belly because she and Jeremiah have always been strictly friends. Belly remembers the summer that solidified their friendship: Susannah was battling breast cancer, and Belly comforted Jeremiah one day when they overheard their mothers arguing about how Susannah was choosing to manage her illness.

This development in her relationship with Jeremiah reminds Belly of another summer when she brought her friend Taylor Jewel to visit. Taylor had more experience with boys than Belly, but she viewed Taylor as her way to get in with the boys’ group and show them that she, too, was pretty. Her plan backfires when Taylor decides that she wants to go after Conrad and then quickly changes her mind to pursue Jeremiah. Both options leave Belly feeling jealous and insecure though she only has romantic feelings for Conrad.

Before Steven leaves for his college tour, he warns Belly not to do anything stupid in his absence, implying that he can tell Belly’s relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah are changing. Belly does not understand the subtext but thinks that this may be the last summer they all spend at the beach together before they grow up and start going in different directions. Belly resolves to make the rest of the summer count because she recognizes that things cannot stay the same forever.

Her first opportunity to do this comes when Belly secures an invitation to the infamous 4th of July bonfire. Conrad and Jeremiah try to convince Belly not to attend, but she insists on going anyway. At the party, Belly meets Cam, a boy she met years ago at a Latin Convention. Belly finds herself instantly attracted to him, and he is also interested in her. When Cam offers to give Belly a ride home, Belly gets into an altercation with Conrad, who refuses to let her leave with Cam. They argue, but Belly ultimately does not leave the party with Cam, although she gives him her number, and he gives her his sweatshirt.

Belly begins spending more time with Jeremiah, who helps her to learn to drive a stick shift and takes her go-kart racing. Belly and Cam start dating, and he invites her to another party with him. Belly contends with teasing from Jeremiah and Conrad about Cam, and Belly momentarily wonders if either of them could be jealous because they have feelings for her.

At the party, Conrad almost gets into a fistfight with another partygoer, and Belly intervenes. She tells Cam she is going home with Conrad and Jeremiah to ensure Conrad is okay. While waiting for Jeremiah in the car, Belly freezes as she feels Conrad playing with her hair from the backseat. Conrad begins to say something but stops short. Belly writes off the experience because Conrad is drunk, although she senses her feelings for Conrad making a resurgence despite her relationship with Cam.

Cam and Belly continue dating; he admits that when he first saw Belly at the Latin Convention, he thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Belly cringes as she remembers the retainer and glasses she wore and cannot believe that Cam would ever have thought she was beautiful. They share their first kiss after a date at the movies. Belly wishes this was her first kiss rather than the one she shared with Jeremiah a few summers before during a game of “Truth or Dare.”

At Susannah’s urging, Belly invites Cam over to the house. He spends more time with the family, even playing video games with Jeremiah and Conrad. Belly’s feelings for Cam grow stagnant, and the relationship eventually ends after Cam accuses Belly of still harboring feelings for Conrad and using him to make Conrad jealous. Belly admits to herself that despite Conrad’s attitude toward her this summer, she still has feelings for him.

After her breakup with Cam, Jeremiah tells Belly that he does not think Cam is the right guy for her. Belly agrees but is shocked when Jeremiah admits his romantic feelings for her. Belly tells Jeremiah that she still has feelings for Conrad. Jeremiah assures Belly that he is not mad at her, but his tone belies an underlying resentment toward his brother.

After her conversation with Jeremiah, Belly decides that she needs to tell Conrad about her feelings for him. She admits that she has loved him since she was ten, but Conrad tells her that he does not return her feelings. Belly pushes Conrad further on the issue until he starts yelling at her. Jeremiah appears, and he and Conrad begin fighting. Their fight escalates until Laurel and Susannah intervene. Susannah finally admits the truth that has been causing both Jeremiah and Conrad to act differently this summer: Her cancer has returned and is terminal.

The next morning, Susannah asks Belly to look after “him.” Without further explanation, Belly understands that Susannah means Conrad, and she goes to find him on the beach. Belly realizes that no matter where life takes her, a part of her will always love Conrad. Belly apologizes to Conrad, and they kiss before Conrad stops her and tells her that while he does have feelings for her, they cannot start a relationship like this. He asks her to stay with him, which she does even as it begins to rain.

On their last night in the house, Susannah tells everyone that she plans to continue fighting her cancer as best she can but states that she will do no more treatments. She also wants to spend whatever time she has left with those who mean the most to her. After dinner, Belly writes a note to Jeremiah and Conrad inviting them to join her in the pool for a final midnight swim. When Belly expresses sadness that this might be their last summer together, Conrad tells her that all of them will always come back to Cousins Beach.

Months later, Belly wakes up to a call from Conrad, who asks if he can see her. She asks him to wait until her mother has gone to sleep and then sneaks out of the house to meet him. He appears nervous and asks her if she still plans to go somewhere with him, indicating a previous conversation and plan. Belly agrees, and the novel ends with Belly thinking that everything that happened each summer preceding has led up to this moment. 

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