Nothing signals the start of the summer season like the release of a new novel from Jennifer Weiner. Her stories of the complex relationships between women have long been some of my very favorite reading material when the weather starts warming up. With her latest novel, Big Summer, Weiner offers readers something a little different, and while it isn’t a flawless reading experience, there’s quite a bit to love in these pages.
Drue Cavanaugh is the kind of friend any girl would be lucky to have. At least, that’s what Daphne Berg thought when the two crossed paths in the sixth grade. Drue is pretty, popular, and extremely wealthy, everything Daphne is pretty sure she’ll never be. The two become friends, and for the next several years, they’re inseparable. But when an act of cruelty severs their ties, Daphne is forced to stand on her own two feet, and she’s determined to prove to the world – and to herself – that she can be a success without Drue by her side.
Six years later, Daphne is in her mid-twenties. She’s a self-professed fat girl who is slowly making a name for herself in the world of Instagram influencers. She’s been approached by several well-known companies, and she feels like her star is finally on the rise. She hasn’t seen or spoken to Drue since the terrible fight that ended their friendship, and while she doesn’t actively seek out information about her former friend, it would be pretty close to impossible for her to be unaware of the countless lavish events that make up Drue’s daily life.
Daphne is understandably shocked when Drue shows up out of the blue, desperate for a favor only Daphne can provide. She’s about to be married, and she begs Daphne to stand up in her wedding. At first, Daphne wants nothing to do with what she’s sure will be the society wedding of the summer, but there’s something about Drue’s desperation that makes her eventually accept. Plus, the idea of being able to advertise herself as a member of such an elegant wedding party adds an extra layer of incentive to the situation.
What follows is a delightful story about friendship, social media, and the ways in which our past actions are never really forgotten, and in Daphne, Jennifer Weiner has created a heroine most women will be able to relate to. She’s intelligent and resourceful, but she also has some intense vulnerabilities that get in the way of both her personal and professional success. She wants to be loved and appreciated for who she is, but she’s not sure that’s possible when she doesn’t love herself all the time. Through her Instagram posts, she’s managed to convince the world that her life is everything she wants it to be, but, as is the case with so much of what’s on social media, that’s only part of the story.
The events of the book take place over a long weekend spent mostly on Cape Cod, but we do spend a bit of time in New York City as well. Both settings come to life beautifully. As someone who has spent time in the hustle and bustle that makes New York City so special, I loved being able to reconnect with that vibrant metropolis on the page.
This book would have been absolutely perfect if not for the appearance of a murder mystery. As someone who reads a ton of thrillers, I’m usually the first one to applaud the introduction of a bit of mystery, but here, it struck a bit of an awkward note. The fact that Daphne is suddenly caught up in a murder investigation is quite jarring, and I found myself wanting the focus to return to Daphne’s journey of self-discovery. It’s not that Weiner is incapable of writing a compelling mystery; she actually does a pretty good job with this aspect of the story, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. It’s an addition to the novel I simply didn’t understand, and as such, it did diminish my enjoyment quite a bit.
If you’re a fan of Weiner’s writing, you’ll definitely want to pick up Big Summer. It’s full of the romance, wit, and summer magic we’ve come to expect from this author. The mystery portion didn’t completely work for me, but your mileage may vary.