'The Summer I Turned Pretty' Introduces a New Generation to a Summertime Staple
The Summer I Turned Pretty series adapts the beloved trilogy into a bingeworthy TV show and introduces a new generation to Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah.
July 4, 2022
For those of you who were lucky enough to be young teens around the years of 2009-2011, you may remember the thrill of picking out your next summer novel to read by the pool, beach, or even your cement patio with the sprinklers running. For thirteen-year-olds everywhere, authors like Jenny Han or Sarah Dessen were summertime staples. I distinctly remember browsing my beloved Borders during the months of June and July, searching for that perfect girly book to read during summer vacation. I would carefully thumb through several books, trying to find the one that would sustain me over the long, two-month break; the one that would feed the part of my brain that longed for adventures that felt out of my reach. Romance, flirtation, fun, freedom: these were the things I looked for in a summer novel. And Jenny Han delivered.
Now that I am in my mid-twenties, I look back fondly at these books, remembering all the long hours I spent reading by the pool. At the end of my summers, the pages would be bent, stained with water marks and smelling faintly of Coppertone—the signs of a book well-read. I worshipped at the alter of these authors, patiently waiting for the arrival of their next book, for the next summer. It’s both surreal and exciting to see these books brought to life onscreen. I never thought I would see them anywhere but the privacy of my own mind. Now a new generation is being introduced to my version of summer. They are getting caught up in the love triangles I once was a part of, burying their feet in the sand and thinking of Cousins Beach, falling in love with Conrad Fisher, and taking in all the peaceful splendor of a midnight swim.
For those unfamiliar with the series (or in need of a refresher, I know I was), The Summer I Turned Pretty follows sixteen-year-old Belly Conklin as she embarks on yet another summer adventure in the beach destination town of Cousins. It’s a trip she’s made every summer since the beginning of her life, spending it with her mother; brother; her mother’s friend, Susannah (who owns the beach house); and Susannah’s sons, Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. The only difference this time, as the name implies, is that Belly seems to have blossomed. Long left out of the boy’s fun, Belly has now captured their attention, much to the dismay of her older brother. What ensues is rather easy to imagine, but all the fun and hijinks play out against a much more serious and solemn backdrop than what may appear.
Belly is played by newcomer Lola Tung and her brother, Steven, is played by Sean Kaufman (Manifest). Both actors appear to be of Asian descent and their mother, Laurel, is played by the accomplished Jackie Chung (Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19). The books leave the Conklins’ ethnicity and cultural background open to the reader to interpret as they wish; Belly is described as tan, with long, brown hair and her mother’s appearance is hardly described at all. Given the struggle Jenny Han had trying to get an Asian actress to play her Korean American character, Lara Jean, in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, it’s refreshing to see more Asian leads in The Summer I Turned Pretty.
Some of the minor characters, like Belly’s love rival, Nicole, have been made more diverse than initially described in the book. Belly’s love interest, Cam, is played by David Iacono (Grand Army, The Flight Attendant), an actor of Puerto Rican and Italian descent.
Some Noticeable Changes
While the basic premise of the novels is kept the same for the series, there are some noticeable changes to the storyline. For example, the series spends a little more time on the lives of the parents. Belly’s mother, Laurel, is an accomplished author who feels the pressure to write about the Asian American experience in order to gain recognition in her field. She is far from perfect as a character, but that is what makes her so interesting. While watching, I can’t help but wonder if a bit of Jenny Han herself made its way into Laurel. Susannah, on the other hand, is very close to her character in the books. She is fun, light-hearted, loving, and wants this summer to be like any other for her kids, despite a very dark cloud hanging over her head.
Belly joining a debutante ball to please Susannah is absent from the books, but the event captures the spirit of what this summer means to the characters. Belly is changing, exploring new things about herself and seeing herself in a whole new light. Her closeness to Susannah and desire to please her is portrayed excellently through the use of the debutante ball. The ball also represents the changing way the Fisher brothers view Belly. Conrad, Belly’s epic childhood crush, is finally noticing her, and Jeremiah, Belly’s best friend, is starting to see her as more than a friend.
Steven is a bigger character in the TV show, as the book focuses on Belly. His protective instincts of his younger sister and his annoyance at her change is still well-represented in the show. The choice to keep Steven in Cousins for the summer instead of sending him to football camp like the books makes for an interesting dynamic between the main characters. Given that Susannah is sick again, and not likely to get better, it was heartwarming to see Steven included in the emotional night where her cancer recurrence is revealed to both Belly and Jeremiah. Similar to the book, Susannah’s desire to keep the kids from knowing the truth until summer is over is both successful and unsuccessful. In the books, both Conrad and Jeremiah know, but Belly doesn’t. In the Amazon Original series, Conrad is the only one who knows, making for a very heartbreaking scene when Jeremiah finds out at the ball.
Overall, the integrity, emotion, and feel of the books is kept intact. Any changes that were made only helped to better and more efficiently explain the relationship between characters and help move the plot along. Watching The Summer I Turned Pretty transports me back to a time when summers were all mine and water was the only friend I wanted to see. Watching the series is like reading the books all over again, only this time, I get to share the small world of Cousins with a new generation as they discover Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah for the first time. And it’s been a blast.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is available to watch on Amazon Prime.