There is nothing better than a light-hearted summer romance that transcends the pages with dreaminess and nostalgia. Jenny Han's 2009 The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy perfectly encapsulates this magic, making it an iconic piece of pop culture.
It follows sixteen-year-old Isabel "Belly" Conklin as she gets caught in a love triangle between her friend, Jeremiah, and his brother and her long-term crush, Conrad. Like all summers before, the three of them share a beach house with their moms, Laurel and Susannah, and Belly's brother, Steven.
In June 2022, the first book was adapted into a seven-episode show, beloved by a new generation. However, culture has changed significantly in the last 13 years. This is reflected in the notable differences between the book and the show.
The Debutante Ball
The Deb Ball was a new subplot in the show, adding another layer of drama. While an outdated tradition, it allowed Belly to find her place in a diverse community of girls, and it was an opportunity for her to spend more time with Susannah, making cherishable memories.
Jenny Han justifies this addition in an interview, saying it was a "chance to really bring a ceremonial rite of passage of growing up to life..., marking that moment... between girlhood and adulthood."
Jeremiah's Love life
In the show, Jeremiah is sexually fluid. He is shown making out with a guy at a party, and his attraction to males is referenced several times throughout.
"He's always been... really comfortable in his own skin, and open-minded and open to exploration. I do think that's more reflective of today and young people today."
- Jenny Han
There was never a major coming-out scene in the show; this addition was done subtly but powerfully. It contributed to the normalization of being LGBT+ and allowed the show to resonate with more viewers.
Jeremiah's sexuality change doesn't take away his attraction towards Belly, though. In fact, in the show, Jeremiah and Belly explore a relationship, and he even accepts her request for him to be her escort at the Deb Ball. In the book, Jeremiah admits he likes her, but Belly rejects him by declaring her feelings for Conrad.
The Moms' Love Lives
While the book is limited to Jeremiah and Conrad's relationships, the moms' characters are given more depth in the show. Coming out of a messy marriage, Susannah is shown getting involved with strangers at bars, carefree and youthful. Laurel and author Cleveland Castillo slowly become close, but they don't label their relationship.
This change encourages the idea that mothers are humans, too, with real relationships. It truly brought the show to life, by having this second generation also exploring themselves.
Speaking of Cleveland, his character didn't exist in the book. In the show, his character serves a greater importance than his fling with Laurel. As Conrad teaches Cleveland to sail, he reveals the big secret he's not supposed to know: Susannah has cancer. Talking to Cleveland gives Conrad a friend and an outlet for his silent suffering. Cleveland's character is stable and provides comedic relief, and he bridges the cast together.
In the book, Belly's best friend, Taylor, only appears in flashbacks to previous summers and is a minor character. However, in the show, she visits twice.
The girls' friendship is put to the test on several occasions. While, in the book, they struggle to recover, they display strong resilience in the show. This shows young girls the power of having a friend like Taylor, someone who you know will always stand by you, as Belly did.
Steven's College Trip
In the book, Steven leaves early on to go on a college tour trip with his dad, and Belly is left alone with Conrad and Jeremiah. Steven's brotherly protectiveness was a barrier between Belly and the boys, so when he's gone, romances escalate.
The show got rid of this entirely, with Belly having to sneak around her brother instead of basking in his absence. We see the siblings' relationship grow as they face challenges together, especially in the finale when they learn about Susannah's cancer and try to process it together.
Which is Better?
It's time for the big question: who's the winner? After reflecting on these differences, the right answer is definitely the show.
The show adds more subplots and drama to keep the viewer on edge, like adding Cleveland's character and more insight into the moms, whereas the book often feels boring and predictable to me. While incorporating the best parts of the book, the changes made give appropriate consideration to how the world has changed since the book was published, from adding LGBT+ characters to representation of positive female friendships.
Moreover, the show feels more real. It shows the reality of being a teen girl past "boy problems." The book often feels like it is romanticizing this, and though the show can also do this at times, it shows what its original hides. Belly struggles to find who she is, and fails to find stability in those around her, who are changing as well. While her experiences are unique, her emotions are relatable, connecting teen viewers who feel alone.
The internet has been flooded with positive reviews of the show.
If you've been craving a comedic yet heartfelt summer romance, be sure to give "The Summer I Turned Pretty" a try!