With 'Big Summer,' Jennifer Weiner Maintains Her Status as Queen of the Summer Read

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Illustration by Britt Spencer

"Where's the line between who you really are and what you're showing people online?"

Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner has proven herself to be the queen of the beach read, and her new book Big Summer (Atria Books), is destined to continue the trend. "My previous book was Mrs. Everything, which was a historical novel that took place over 70 years and had this very intricate timeline. When I finished that book, I said, 'I want to do something fun.'" Big Summer tells the story of a young social-media influencer forced to attend the wedding of a high school friend over a long summer weekend. As she has made a point of doing throughout her career, Weiner uniquely tells the story of plus-sized women through a broader lens. She says typically, "they would lose a hundred pounds and then suddenly all this good stuff would come to them. I wanted to present a different narrative, the good and bad." Weiner hopes to model this for her own daughters. "I want them to see all kinds of characters living interesting, fulfilling lives and getting happy endings. I want them to believe that that's possible for everyone and that everyone deserves a shot at that."

If there ever were a perfect summer read, Big Summer is it. Did you set out to be the queen of the summer read?

My previous book was Mrs. Everything, which was a historical novel that took place over 70 years and had this very intricate timeline. When I finished that book, I said, 'I want to do something fun.' I want to do something that takes place over a long weekend at a beach, and it's going to be a girl who gets a happy ending.' That was the initial impulse. I was just so burnt out, I wanted to do something that was pure pleasure. Even though I think [Big Summer] turned out to be a little deeper than that and has something to say, that was the impulse, just to have something be an escape and fun and entertaining.

A common theme in many of your books is body positivity and its nuances. Do you think there's a lack of those stories being told?

When I wrote my first book, Good in Bed, there weren't positive plus-sized characters. There would be fat women in novels, but either they would be sort of the funny sidekicks who were never the focus of the story or they would have to lose a lot of weight before anything good could happen to them. That would be the mechanism through which they would get their happy ending. They would lose like a hundred pounds and then suddenly all this good stuff would come to them. I wanted to present a different narrative, the good and bad. I think that fiction has gotten much better and much more diverse, not just about size, but about race, about ethnicity, about age. I just wish movies and TV would catch up.

What about high school made it such a formative experience to include in the book?

High school is when we are like baby adults at this really weird in-between stage. You feel things that happen very deeply, and they can form your whole sense of who you are and who you're going to become going forward. If you were the nerd in high school, that's something that you carry with you, that person still lives inside of you. Even if you've gone on to become the leading man movie star. If you were the hot cheerleader, that is somebody that you can carry inside of you, even if you are now a married mom with four kids and you don't look the way you did when you were on top of the pyramid.

What about social media made you want to feature it so prominently in your lead character's story?

Just how prominent it is in so many women's lives. And you know, certainly, I'm on Facebook, I'm on Instagram, I'm on Twitter. I understand the impulse and even really the necessity of being extremely online all the time for women, but I was interested in talking about the duality of your one-person IRL and your presenting self as someone else or something else when you're online. This is nothing new. I'm not the first person to think about these issues. But it's a question of when is putting your best self forward a good thing? When is it a bad thing? When is it helpful and when is it harmful?

What inspires you to write such a cornucopia of diverse and powerful female protagonists?

I want to put into the world the kind of stories that I wish had been there for me, and that I want to be there for my daughters as they become adults. I want them to see all kinds of characters living interesting, fulfilling lives and getting happy endings. I want them to believe that that's possible for everyone and that everyone deserves a shot at that.

What do you hope people take from Big Summer?

I want the book to be entertaining. I want it to be a pleasurable thing in people's lives right now. But if there was something I would want people to think about, it would be where's the line between who you really are and what you're showing people online? When does authenticity itself become a pose?

With 'Big Summer', Jennifer Weiner Maintains Her Status as Queen of the Summer Read
Jennifer Weiner's new novel 'Big Summer,' released May 5, 2020 by Atria Books. Atria Books