SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for the first season of “The Summer I Turned Pretty”, now available on Amazon Prime Video.
Those who read Jenny Han’s 2009 novel “The Summer I Turned Pretty” and the two books that followed knew a little about what to expect from the series, which launched its first season on Friday, June 17.
The premise was simple: a young woman, Belly, and her mother go to a beach house every summer and hang out with the mother’s best friend and their children. Bely has always had a crush on one of the boys, Conrad, and is best friends with her brother, Jeremiah. Before she turned 16, she went back to the beach once again and everyone realized that she was no longer a little girl.
The seven-episode series follows the same realm with newcomer Lola Tung playing Belly.
“I really wanted to find actors who felt real, natural and fresh. There’s a sense of discovery about it. The pivot was going to be Belly because everything revolves around her. She’s the main character and that’s why it was most important to find our right belly,” Han told Variety. “Lola had this freshness to her. She was still 18 when we cast her and she turned 18 on the show, but I find it very difficult to manufacture a kind of innocence or novelty in things. This is our first part and she’s never done this before. There are so many meta elements to it – to Belly’s big summer and Lola’s big summer.”
Here, the author and co-showrunner delves more into the differences between the book series and the TV show, her vision for future seasons, and those amazing needle drops.
When you were adapting the book, how much pressure did you feel when it came to who Belly chose romantically at what point in her life?
It’s a bit of a balance, because I’ve really had to weigh what the fans are expecting with where the show is going creatively and find that balance. My priority has always been that I want the fans of the book to feel really satisfied with the story we’re telling, but also that I want them to know that this is an adaptation in a new medium, so it won’t be quite the same. I think those are the two things that are always on my mind.
In the first book, Belly turned Jeremiah down. At this, she shot him and they went. together. Was there a chance she was with Jeremiah at the end of season one instead of kissing Conrad?
Yeah, that kind of changed in the first season. When I was doing Jeremiah’s point of view in the second book, I was very influenced in all directions. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but the books have been out for a while. You never know what might happen with the show. I was open-minded going into this. I was considering a lot of different possibilities.
So, are you team Conrad or Jeremiah?
I definitely had back-and-forth moments for sure, because I think to write these characters, you have to love them and understand them and empathize with them. So I had a lot of empathy for these two brothers. And my heart would definitely turn like Belly’s.
Can you talk about the decision to make Jeremiah bisexual on the show?
I was looking at this adaptation and thinking, if I were going to write this book today, how would I write these characters? They’re all the same characters, but I think the culture has changed in a lot of ways and I think this younger generation is much freer about labels and more open-minded and less binary. So I felt like for Jeremiah, it really made sense to him because I think he’s a character who’s very comfortable in his own skin and at ease with himself. I think it was a very natural choice to make.
It was great to see young people on this show constantly Asking if they could make a move on Belly. So thanks for that. We also see her become more experienced and start talking about sex. Will future seasons include even more conversation about this?
Well thanks! We’ll see! We’re still writing season two right now. So I think we’ll find out where this goes.
Susannah and Laurel’s friendship, as well as their personal relationships, were a much bigger part of the show than the book. And really, their friendship is a love story in itself. Did you know you wanted to dig deeper into this when hosting the show?
One of the pleasures of adapting this for TV was that we were able to expand on Belly’s point of view, where in the books, it’s really interior because you’re literally in her head. For the show, we got to expand our world and spend time with other characters in their heads. It was important to me that these two women had their own stories that were separate from being the roles of mother or wife – that they had their own inner worlds and their own coming of age. Both are at different inflection points in a way. I really wanted to show the breadth of female friendships and the intensity and intimacy of that and really celebrate how these two women chose each other, and they’ve chosen each other for decades. They really prioritize their friendship, so much so that they choose to be together in this house and bring their kids with them and create this magical world as a family.
Susannah dies between the first and second books. What conversations did you have with Rachel Blanchard early on about her character and the arc she was doing?
We have a lot of conversations about Susannah’s trajectory and all of the cast members have also read the books, so everyone was jumping into that knowledge base. I would say that Rachel and I talked a lot about how I think Susannah is one of the most important characters in season one. I think each person is in her orbit in a way and everyone is there because of her and she is very loved by all of them. People are reacting to her in many ways. She’s putting people on different journeys, so it was important to me that the person I cast in this role was someone who drew people in, someone you could just fall in love with.
Obviously, we have to talk about the music because it’s a character in itself on the show. There’s a lot of Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Ariana Grande. Can you explain your process of getting the rights to these blockbusters?
It was pretty much the normal way of writing a script and then waiting for people to give us permission. As time went on, there were certain scenes where I asked for 10 different songs to try. Pretty much everything we went after, we mostly achieved. The way I approached the song was thinking about how I think there’s always that summer song. You remember where you were when great music was and there’s something really nostalgic about music that can transport you to another place in time. So I wanted the show to have that immediacy, but also that sense of memory. I really wanted songs that were recognizable.
To get the rights to the song, our process was to show the artist the script so he could see the scene and have this context of what it would be like, because some artists are selective about who they give the rights to and I don’t want a theme that’s going to be super violent or something. Different artists deal with it in different ways, but this was pretty much the process for every song we covered.
So this is a three book story. You already have a second season. Are you planning three seasons?
It totally depends on what Amazon wants and really, truly what the public wants. I would love to have three seasons because it’s three books. So I would love to be able to finish telling this story the way I wrote it. But I certainly don’t take anything for granted. I just hope people find the audience and people love it and want more.