‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’: Jenny Han Breaks Down Series’ Biggest Surprises
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1 of The Summer I Turned Pretty.]
The Prime Video title has the author of the megapopular book serving as showrunner on the coming-of-age series, giving her the power to grant longtime fans’ wishes, while also sprinkling in some new story elements, details, and more. And while teenager Belly’s (Lola Tung) tale is more than intriguing — she finds herself torn between the sons of her mother’s best friend, after all — the show packs an added punch via its stellar soundtrack.
Before The Summer I Turned Pretty‘s debut, the trailer featured a snippet of Taylor Swift‘s “This Love (Taylor’s Version),” leading to a flurry of speculation over which other songs from the uber-successful artist might be featured. Viewers were surely satisfied to learn that the show featured not just one but five tunes from Swift, along with hits from artists like Billie Eilish, Tyler the Creator, Olivia Rodrigo, Bon Iver, and Ariana Grande.
“We had a great music supervisor, Liza Richardson,” muses Han. “A big part of her job is trying to get the rights for us, get things licensed and I had a big wishlist of stuff that I wanted.” One of those people on Han’s wishlist was Swift, whom she says, “I’m a fan of, but also my fans of the books are her fan as well so I just felt like a kid on Christmas morning being able to give that gift to them.”
As much as Swift’s tunes dominate some of the show’s most pivotal scenes, like a showstopping ball dance set to the tune of “The Way I Loved You (Taylor’s Version)” between Belly and her first love/longtime crush Conrad (Chris Briney), a particular favorite moment of Han’s is set to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next.” The song plays as Belly and her fellow debutantes finish getting ready and prepare to make a big entrance in the Cousins Beach country club’s ballroom.
“It’s one of my favorite songs in part because I remember before it came out, people [thought] she was going to go give all the tea and be negative about these old loves and it ended up being so celebratory and joyful. It wasn’t what people were expecting at all and I think for Belly, that moment is a joyful moment of her coming into her own and feeling powerful and going to the next stage of life.”
And while Belly’s debutante journey is a large part of the show, it’s one of the many story elements that wasn’t in the novel. Among some of the other notable changes were Jeremiah’s (Gavin Casalegno) sexuality and the role Summer Madison‘s Nicole played in the season.
It’s revealed in the series that Jeremiah is bisexual when the teens go to a party and he makes out with a guy who accuses him of queer-baiting. His fluidity is something Han considers an update to the original character she envisioned. “It was one of the aspects of freshening it up and feeling like it reflects the world that we live in today and how I would tell the story if I was telling it right now. It has all the same pieces, but I think that Jeremiah being sexually fluid feels really realistic to me, to that character as well.”
Originally written in 2009, The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in a trilogy of novels from Han who adds, “It does not feel like I changed his character. It just feels like an aspect that I think would come to the fore if the story was in 2022.”
And it’s similar to the handling of Nicole, a character who’s simply referred to as “Red Sox Girl” in the book and serves as an adversary of sorts to Belly when she spurs jealousy with of her connection to Conrad. “With Nicole, I thought that was an opportunity to show another female friendship and didn’t have to be such an adversarial thing,” Han says of the expanded character. “I think that I was excited to be able to go a little deeper with that story and that character.”
Nicole ends up being Belly’s “big sister” for the debutante ball, throwing them together and forming a mentor-mentee dynamic that is tested a few times. Ultimately, their connection overcomes any differences they have by the time the first season concludes.
Things are a little less clear when it comes to the love-triangle between Belly and brothers Conrad and Jeremiah. In the show, she gets tired of waiting on Conrad, and when Jeremiah reveals some deeper feelings for her, she pursues it, something that happens in the later books.
“The love triangle was really important to establish in the first season to know what story we’re telling,” Han says. “So even if we didn’t get another season, people would have been able to experience that a little bit … so that got moved up a little bit.”
Luckily, there will be another season and we’re left with quite a cliffhanger in the meantime. After seemingly deciding to pursue a relationship with Jeremiah, Belly finds herself having a heart-to-heart talk with Conrad who opens up about the reasons he’d been so distant that summer, particularly about keeping his mother Susannah’s cancer diagnosis a secret. The moment of vulnerability leads to Belly trying to do what’s right and distancing herself from Conrad who is in a fragile state. When he says he needs her she counters that she wants him to want her.
The pair end up kissing on the beach, ultimately making Belly’s dream a reality, but it doesn’t exactly solve the conundrum she’s facing. “I wouldn’t say that she makes a decision,” Han says. “I think that she’s in a moment that she’s waited for her whole life. And what that means next, we’ll see, but I think it was something that she couldn’t say no to in that moment.”
Thankfully, answers are on the horizon in the second season. Stay tuned for more from this complicated tale of young love as Season 2 takes shape, and relive every sun-soaked summer moment from Season 1 now on Prime Video.
The Summer I Turned Pretty, Season 1, Streaming now, Prime Video