SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from Season 1 of ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’, now streaming 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 dropped its first season on Friday, June 17.
The premise was simple: a young girl, Belly, and her mother go to a beach house every summer and stay with the mother’s best friend and her sons. Bely has always had a crush on one of the boys, Conrad, and is best friends with her brother, Jeremiah. Before her 16th birthday, she went back to the beach one more time and they all noticed that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.
The seven-episode series follows the same realm with newcomer Lola Tung portraying Belly.
“I really wanted to find actors who felt real, natural and fresh. There’s a sense of discovery about it. The kingpin was going to be Belly because it’s all about her. She’s the main character and so it was the most important thing that we found our belly,” Han told Variety. “Lola had this freshness in her. She was still 18 when we cast her and she turned 18 on the show, but I think it’s really hard to manufacture some kind of innocence or novelty in things. It’s our first game and she’s never done it before. There are so many meta elements to this – to Belly’s Big Summer and Lola’s Big Summer.
Here, the author and co-showrunner dives further into the differences between the book series and the TV show, his vision for future seasons, and those incredible needle drops.
When you were adapting the book, how much pressure did you feel about who Belly romantically chose at what time in her life?
It’s a bit of a balancing act, because I really had to weigh what fans want from the creative evolution of the show and find that balance. My priority has always been that I want the fans of the book to really feel satisfied with the story we’re telling, but also to know that it’s an adaptation in a new medium, so it won’t be not exactly the same. I think those are kind of the two things that are always on my mind.
In the first book, Belly turned down Jeremiah. In this she gave him a shot and they were together. Was there any chance she was with Jeremiah at the end of Season 1 instead of kissing Conrad?
Yeah, it was kind of out of place in the first season. When I was doing Jeremiah’s POV in the second book, I was very swayed in all directions. I don’t want to spoil too much but the books have been out for a while. You never know what might happen with the show. I was open-minded. I was considering a lot of different possibilities.
So, are you Team Conrad or Jeremiah?
I definitely had some back and forth moments for sure, because I think to write these characters you have to love them and you have to understand them and have empathy for them. So I had a lot of empathy for these two brothers. And my heart would definitely spin like Belly’s.
Can you talk about the decision to make Jeremiah bisexual on the show?
I was watching this adaptation and thinking, if I were to write this book today, how would I write these characters? They’re all the same characters, but I think the culture has evolved in a number of ways and I think this younger generation is a lot more label-free 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 very comfortable character in his own skin and comfortable with himself. I think it was a really natural choice to make.
It was great to see the young men in this show constantly ask if they could make a move on Belly. So thank you for that. She is also seen becoming more experienced and starting to talk about sex. Will future seasons include even more conversations about this?
Thanks very much! We will see! We are still writing the second season now. So I think we’ll find where that leads.
Susannah and Laurel’s friendship, as well as their individual personal relationships, was a much bigger part of the series than the book. And really, their friendship is a love story in itself. Did you know you wanted to delve into that when presenting the show?
One of the pleasures of the television adaptation was that we were able to expand from Belly’s point of view, where in the books it’s really inside because you’re literally inside his head. For the show, we got to expand our world and hang out with other characters in their heads. It was important to me that these two women had their own stories that were separate from the roles of mother or wife – that they had their own inner worlds and their own maturity. The two are at different inflection points in some way. I really wanted to show the extent of female friendships, their intensity and their intimacy and really celebrate how these two women chose each other, and they’ve been choosing each other for decades. They really prioritize their friendship, so much so that they choose to be together in this house and bring their children with them and create this magical world as one 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 went into them with that knowledge base. I would say Rachel and I talked a lot about how I think Susannah is like one of the most important characters in the first season. I think every person is in their orbit in some way and they’re all there because of her and she’s very much loved by everyone. People react in many ways. She takes people on different journeys, so it was important to me that the person I choose for this role was someone who drew people in, someone you could fall in love with.
Obviously, we have to talk about the music because it is a character in its own right in the series. There are a lot of Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Ariana Grande. Can you explain your process for obtaining the rights to these huge hits?
It was pretty much the normal way of writing a script and then hoping people would give us permission. As I went along, there were certain scenes where I asked for 10 different songs to try. Pretty much everything we looked for, we were able to get for the most part. The way I approached music was thinking about how I think there’s always that summer song. You remember where you were when it was the big song and there’s something really nostalgic about the music that can transport you to another place in time. So I wanted the show to have that immediacy but also that feeling of a memory. I really wanted recognizable songs.
To get the rights to the music, our process was to show the artist the script so they saw the scene and had that context of what it was going to be because some artists are selective about who they grant the rights to. and they don’t. I don’t want a theme that will be like super violent or something like that. Different artists handle it in different ways, but that was pretty much the process for all the music we covered.
It is therefore a story in three books. You already have a season 2. Do you plan three seasons?
It totally depends on what Amazon wants and really, really what the public wants. I would like to have three seasons because there are three books. So I wish I could 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 like it and want more.