Review: That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

by Heather Caliendo
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Editorial note: I received a copy of That Summer in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner is about the journey toward closure.

Where do I begin with this book? That Summer is not at all what I expected. I keep my reviews spoiler-free but I have to dive more into the plot with this one. For one, the marketing and cover are both so misleading. The cover looks more like a lighter beach read rather than an intense and disturbing story. I can imagine more than half the audience will pick up That Summer and be absolutely shocked at where the story goes. Trigger Warnings: sexual assault, hate speech.

This isn’t just a book about female friendship like the promotion has you to believe. But in fact, the story revolves around the rape of one of the characters and the devastating impact that it left. This isn’t a minor storyline— the title That Summer specifically refers to when the assault happened.

It’s evident that Jennifer Weiner was inspired to write this story in the wake of the #metoo movement. But it was jarring for me when I quickly realized that’s what the story was about as I did not anticipate it. I almost put it down a couple times but I decided to stick with it. And overall, I think it was a pretty decent read. But I’m pretty appalled at the marketing for it.

For instance, this is how the publisher describes it: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Summer comes another deliciously twisty novel of intrigue, secrets, and the transformative power of female friendship.

Deliciously twisty?? Are you all serious? And intrigue, not so much. Agh, it just feels gross and totally manipulative. Almost like the publisher was scared to admit what the story was about, which is ridiculous! I don’t appreciate misleading marketing when it comes to novels. So that did impact how I viewed this novel.

What’s the Story About

We meet Diana as a teenager where she works as a nanny for well-off family vacationing in Cape Cod. Diana develops a crush on an older boy and when he invites her to a party with all of his friends, she happily accepts. But the boy betrays her and Diana is assaulted, which changes the trajectory of her life forever.

The story fast forwards to 2019 and we meet Daisy, a stay-at-home housewife who is working on growing her cooking business. She married her husband Hal very young and is quite dependent on him. Everything changes for Daisy when she starts to receive misdirected emails meant for a woman named Diana Starling, whose email address is just one punctuation mark away from her own. Daisy gets a glimpse into Diana’s glamorous life and she begins to wonder, what if things were different for her? Eventually, the two connect, meet and become friends.

But as you can imagine, this connection isn’t accidental. And you probably know exactly where the story is going from there.

The Dianas

So both women are actually named Diana; Daisy goes by her nickname because her husband liked it better. I have to say, I wasn’t particularly fond of Daisy’s sections in the beginning. She just seemed so naive and a bit basic. Also, she apparently is 38 but talks like a 50-year-old. All that said, her story does really take off about midway through the book. But the beginning is rough.

I was much more engaged with Diana who is determined her rapist sees some type of justice. But it takes a long time to get there. I was happy when she eventually found love but that section also dragged quite a bit. I think this book could have used another edit and been cut down. I kept wondering where the story was going to go but not in an intriguing way but more feeling exhausted by the everyday details that took away from the main plot.

Anyway, the friendship works in the beginning, even though OG Diana is lying the whole time. And I thought it made sense how she started to like Daisy, even when she knew she shouldn’t. So the female friendship promotion of the novel does happen, just not in the way you think.

Verdict

As I mentioned, I had a hard time reading That Summer at first because I did not expect at all the subject matter to involve a rape. I’ve read some very heavy stories this year so I was looking forward to something lighter. The marketing campaign for this novel is wrong, in my opinion.

However, once I got halfway into the novel, I thought the story took an engaging turn. There’s a ton that is covered here: consent, white privilege, identity, manipulation, criminal acts, the power of friendship, etc. So it’s definitely one that book clubs will have plenty to discuss.

For book clubs, check out my questions here.

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