“Big Summer” is the big summer novel you’ve been waiting for. Okay, I get it, you’re not on the beach, you’re still working from home, but if you want a great novel to sink into—a novel with a central mystery and a relatable protagonist, this one is for you.
The plot appears simple enough: there’s a murder from the past that seems unsolvable, and a murder in the present with no apparent suspects. But, couple that with a likeable, tenacious protagonist, her rescue dog Bingo, and her practical roommate-slash-best friend, and you’ve got the recipe for an entertaining read—something Jennifer Weiner has created successfully over and over again.
The protagonist, Daphne, is a former nanny turned social media influencer who became an overnight sensation for publicly shaming a fat-shamer. She grows her audience by inviting her followers to join her on a journey of self-love. She shares a carefully curated view of her “look,” complete with clothes that flatter her figure and feel great, which, of course, includes dresses with pockets. But, Weiner shows the reader a side of Daphne that the online world doesn’t see. By piercing the social media star’s online perfection, Weiner reminds us to not be so hard on ourselves, and to go ahead and enjoy that banana bread slathered in butter if that’s what we crave.
To that end, not only do we see Daphne create a new identity, there are a few other characters who reinvent themselves as well. I don’t want to offer spoilers, but as you read, you’ll see transformations in her long-time best friend, a new work connection, and even the mystery man she meets at a wedding.
The novel offers a central theme of forgiveness, which is hard to read without thinking about your own life and who you should probably forgive. There are also multiple juxtapositions throughout the story highlighting flawed relationships that Daphne works to understand and eventually forgive and move forward from.
For example, Daphne’s dad takes her on Sunday adventures through New York City to sample food from different cultures and neighborhoods. Her maternal grandmother, on the other hand, views food as evil and spends an entire summer starving Daphne. Her complex relationship with food starts early, and it continues to haunt her as an adult.
I particularly enjoyed this book because it starts and returns to Cape Cod, which was a favorite childhood escape of mine. I confess, I’m also a huge fan of Jennifer Weiner not just for her story-telling ability, but for her life and career. We grew up a few towns and years apart in Connecticut. Years later, she moved to State College to work for the Centre Daily Times. She eventually moved to Philly, but I like to think of her when I drive by the Carriage House at the Boal mansion, where she lived while she worked at the newspaper. I found her first novel, “Good in Bed,” at a bookstore in 2008, the year it was published. I read it and instantly became a lifetime fan. Her heroines tend to be tenacious and nerdy, and usually plus size, so it’s easy for me to find them relatable. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, I suggest you give “Big Summer” a try.
Kate Walker a curriculum specialist at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.