Jennifer Weiner never fails to grab readers with main characters who are entirely relatable, and who — in spite of many admirable qualities — usually have many of the same foibles that the rest of us suffer from. In “Big Summer,” main character Daphne Berg is an up-and-coming social media influencer. Her hashtags include #sorrynotsorry and #justasIam and her blog’s name is Big Time. Daphne is not slender, and during her whole life, she has been ashamed of her weight and her body.
Her epiphany came one night when her best friend and sometime nemesis, Drue Lathrop Cavanaugh, a rich girl, a mean girl, and a sometimes-best-friend girl, had arranged for a guy to pretend to like Daphne so that she wouldn’t feel left out when the “pretty girls” flirted with the other college guys. When Daphne found out, she got angry. The results of her fury went viral in a video, and Daphne took that to heart. Instead of slinking away from the notoriety in shame, she decided to stop trying to be something she wasn’t, and to embrace and love herself no matter her size. She posted the video on her new Instagram account and began to get lots of followers.
So Daphne is stitching together a life where her babysitting, her Insta revenue (along with her dog’s Insta revenue) and the art she sells on Etsy make her a living. She lives with Darshi, her high school friend, who also had suffered in high school at mean girl Drue’s hands. But when Drue reappears one day to ask Daphne to be in her wedding party, Daphne is unable to resist. We know what Daphne is feeling because Weiner’s first person narrative is so on point, “I could feel the old, familiar longing, and could remember how easily she’d pulled me into her orbit with the unspoken promise that, if I got close to her, if I did what she wanted me to do, I’d end up elevated by proximity; looking like her, being like her, having that beauty and power and confidence it conferred.”
Drue is being married on Cape Cod to Stuart Lowe, the star of a bachelor dating show, and the chance to spend time on Cape Cod sounds lovely; but what really convinces Daphne to agree is that Drue breaks down and cries as she admits that she has no friends. She admits that she hasn’t been perfect. And she says that Daphne was the only friend who ever liked Drue for herself, and not her trappings.
The minute Daphne agrees, Drue cries out for a picture. “Sixty seconds later, Drue had taken, edited, cropped, filtered, and posted a picture…” Much of the book is about how social media, and influencers, have become a normal part of life on the internet. Hashtags, getting paid to wear outfits, eating at restaurants, getting a wedding paid for by sponsors — it’s a new world out there. And Daphne, and to a larger extent Drue, are there to exploit it.
We grow to love Daphne and her big personality, her love of her rescue dog Bingo, her appreciation for her loving and wonderful parents, and her honesty. At the same time, we also see that while Drue might appear to have it all: rich family, house on the Cape, expensive wedding, handsome groom, and Harvard degree, she really envies Daphne.
For those of us at home during this pandemic, Big Summer is the epitome of a beach read. Weiner manages to pack all the sounds and smells and tastes of the beach into this story. The chill in the air the night before the wedding feels real to anyone who has spent time at the ocean, and the salty smell is one that those of us who can’t travel to the beach right now will enjoy remembering.
But best of all, we love reading about friendship and family. Weiner knows how to make us consider what real friendship is all about and what is important in life. (Hint: it’s not money, expensive clothing, or millions of Twitter followers.) There’s also a murder to solve and perhaps even a romance for Daphne. Weiner packed a huge suitcase for this “Big Summer” trip and her readers will reap the benefits! You won’t want this beach trip to end.
First posted on Bookreporter.com.
Please note: This review is based on the advance digital galley received from the publisher, Atria Books, for review purposes.