Book Review: Summer of Firsts by Chen Yan Chang

First, let me say that this author is like the Queen of Critiques, and I must hail the queen.

“All hail the queen!”

Seriously though…she’s helped me critique two of my stories and offered such great insight. I’m just sorry that it took me so long to find time to do the same for her.

But here I am now!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

One Sentence Sum-Up: A bookworm goes on summer break with her friend and finally takes herself away from books to experience the kind of love she only reads about, even if that love includes heartbreak.

Plot/Style: This book reminded me of a fun beach read. I liked that it wasn’t quite clear who the main character’s love interest would be from the very beginning, which most YA romances do clearly set up. It made the story more realistic. I wasn’t a big fan of the ending…not to reveal any spoilers or anything…but it made my heart break. I get why the author would end it this way, and I’m hoping this isn’t the real end, but that the story continues in a sequel. The prose itself read smoothly, and I liked the emotion written into the descriptions and the dialogue. Some writers don’t do a very good job of baring emotion and heart, but this was not the case here. I could feel that this author chose her words carefully to create scenes that tugged on the heartstrings.

That being said, I think there were places that dragged too slowly. The scene that comes to mind is when Grace is held up in bed for days because her muscles are sore. Not only did this linger far too long, but it didn’t make sense plot-wise. Nobody would be held up in bed and not go out simply because their muscles hurt from exercise. I think the author could write a more realistic explanation for this and maybe not drag it out for so many pages.

Characters: I could easily identify with the main character, Grace. Introverted bookworms and Jane Austen fan girls UNITE! I also thought it clever and different that she had several potential love interests. This wasn’t the typical girl meets boy and they fall in love type novel. This was a growing pains, coming of age story–budding love, mistakes, heartbreaks, and all.

The only thing I wasn’t too fond of was how Grace’s friend, Jenny, was always associated with flirting and sex and her body. I felt that it made her seem shallow and cheap because she was always trying to make out with guys. I get that she was supposed to be a foil to the introverted Grace, but it perhaps was a bit too exaggerated.

Other Thoughts: What I liked most about this story was the character growth of Grace. While I always appreciate romance in books, I found that the romance wasn’t what I focused on here. It was that the main character was able to get out of her safety bubble and live, not vicariously through fictional characters anymore, but experience her own life, heartbreaks and all. Because real life isn’t a fairy tale–it’s filled with joy and pain, first loves and heartbreaks, triumphs and failures.

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