Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner is the author’s newest book, published May 5th, 2020. Daphne is a native New Yorker working on building her life as an Instagram Influencer in the fat-positive community, part-time babysitter, and loving daughter. Her roommate, Darshini, was one of Daphne’s best friends in elementary school, and they have a good relationship. Except when it comes to Drue, another person from elementary school who wielded her wealth and privilege to take advantage of kids like Daphne and Darshini. Darshini caught on to Drue’s manipulative personality, but Daphne continued seeking crumbs of encouragement and love from Drue that made Daphne feel important.

Drue and Daphne remained friends through their twenties until one night they went clubbing with a group. A guy approached Daphne, but Daphne learned Drue was behind the connection, and it was not genuine. Drue felt sorry for her single fat friend. When Daphne called out the guy on the dance floor, the moment was captured and became a viral video. A screaming fight between Drue and Daphne follows, and they never see each other again. Words of encouragement from internet strangers pushed Daphne to give up dieting and try something else.

But six years later, Drue enters Daphne’s life again. Drue is still the perfect, wealthy Barbie, but she claims she’s getting married in Maine and has no friends, so would Daphne please be her maid of honor. Daphne is the best friend she’s ever had, Drue claims. Suspicious, but lured by the promise of everything being paid for, a stipend, and access to the wedding event of the summer, which could be a great photo op for her Instagram, Daphne heads to Maine. Is Drue changed? Will Daphne hurt her roommate, Darshini, by reconnecting with the bully from their past? Or will Daphne have a great time and maybe hook up with someone?

Big Summer had some plot points in it that I did not expect, and none of them are mentioned in the synopsis, so mums the word. However, it will have to suffice for me to say that the plot kept me wondering what would happen next. I didn’t know who to trust, but that lack of trust felt natural because I think all women knew a girl in childhood who was basically a siren for feeling included and special but was actually a shit head.

Another realistic aspect was Weiner’s use of social media. The author clearly gets how it works, so there was no clunky, anachronistic digital nonsense going on. And I’m glad — many new books are set in the 1980s so authors can avoid the use of modern technology altogether. Weiner even includes some conversation about how the constant photos and posts to social media remove people from a moment, but to a person like Daphne, who is making money with “likes,” social media is business, not a hobby she should break. On the other hand, the internet never forgets, and because Big Summer is set in 2018, that’s recent enough that these characters are affected by the internet, and what it remembers, back to their childhoods.

I can’t think of another novel in which the characters grew up in New York City, rather than moving there as young adults to fulfill their dreams a la Carrie Bradshaw, and Weiner’s descriptions are immersive. Each Sunday, when Daphne was a girl, she and her father would find a new restaurant in the city that would challenge their palates. Daphne’s and Drue’s families are Jewish, Darshini is Indian, there are LGBTQ characters, and a Laotian clothing designer. The diversity is natural, never screaming that the novel is “Woke,” but instead letting the characters reflect the heterogeneity of a city with almost nineteen million residents.

My favorite aspect of Big Summer, though, was the way Daphne’s body was treated. The author never forgot that her character is fat, but it’s not the focus of the story. This is the type of novel I’m looking for in my quest! People can exist in fat bodies without their fat bodies being the focus of their entire (often depicted as sad) lives. Daphne eats and travels the city, she has sex and does crafts, she cares for two small children and engages with thousands of followers. She has doubts that linger from her days as a chronic dieter, but every day she wakes up and there are things to do that don’t include starving. I really enjoyed Big Summer and recommend it.

24 comments

  1. I was thinking about another book published recently – Ian McEwan’s Brexit satire – that this is a very chancy time to publish, with the whole world having changed in just a few months. Weiner must have breathed a sigh of relief that her whole book is not out of date.

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    • I haven’t been hearing so much about authors worrying that their novels will be out of date so much as authors panicked that their books aren’t getting any attention because buying is down due to a bad economy and libraries are closed, so no one is reading/writing reviews, etc. It was strange to read a book set so close to the present, though! That doesn’t happen often for me.

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  2. Bethany Rutter, who I know very slightly, has a new UK YA novel coming out called Melt My Heart that sounds like it might fit your fat-positive brief – I haven’t read it so don’t know if it’s exactly right!

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  3. I like your point about how natural the diversity felt—many times there are still token POC characters in novels, who exist to make a point about wokeness. This sounds fantastic and something I might enjoy—adding it to my TBR!

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    • It drives me nuts when authors introduce characters with a whole list of descriptors, as if that’s how people meet each other in real life. I once started a book whose opening line said something like “I am a fat, Ethiopian-Irish-American bicurious demi-romantic” (that’s not the exact line, but I’m also not exaggerating). I tried to find the quote for this self-published book, but it looks like the author has since edited and re-released the book without that line.

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  4. Hooray! Good news on the fat character being got right, and I love your point about the diversity, too (I was so cheered to find natural diversity in one of the Cornwall series I read last year, given that so many of the light romances/community novels seem to miss that past out).

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  5. Wow! I’m really impressed by this book. I think because the cover screams ‘chick-lit about falling in love with a rich man’ always makes me shy away from books that look like this, but it sounds surprisingly…deep? Anyway, yay for fat-positivity in such a commercially-successful book, this is extremely encouraging.

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  6. Great review! I read one book by Weiner in college, and liked it but but wasn’t really excited enough to keep picking up her work. But this one sounds more interesting than the one I read! (I think it was Who Do You Love). I’m very glad to hear that the diversity of the characters and the use of technology/social media in the book felt natural- both things that many authors seem to struggle with when using modern settings. I’m glad you found a good fat-positive book that was also an enjoyable read! 🙂

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    • I’m so tired of reading new books set in the 1980s because authors don’t want to deal with the way technology would ruin their twisty, turny plots. I mean, if you’re an author living in 2020, you’re going to have to get more creative and face that fact that technology is everywhere and will likely spoil your plot. Think around it; there are certainly people still committing murder and other vicious crimes.

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  7. “I didn’t know who to trust, but that lack of trust felt natural because I think all women knew a girl in childhood who was basically a siren for feeling included and special but was actually a shit head.” <— THIS! This is a thing I've always known, but never consciously. Now reflecting on my teenaged years makes so much more sense. Wowza. (Though, sometimes I worry was he shithead… But that's how brains work.)

    What an intriguing sounding book! The only other books I can think of where the characters grew up in NYC is Gossip Girl. Not really comparable. I’m sure there are others? Maybe?

    Did it bother you at all that every character’s name starts with a D? I struggled to follow your review and had to re-read a few sentences because of that. “Wait. Is this the roommate or the friend who doesn’t understand? What’s the protagonist’s name again?” I get so confused when authors do this!

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