Book Review,  Pop Culture

Season 1 of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” Vs. the Book

This post contains spoilers for both the second season of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” and the books the show is based on.

I’ll admit it. I got sucked into watching “The Summer I Turned Pretty” on Amazon Prime when I saw multiple online discussions about it. I kept seeing references to the love triangle between Isabel “Belly” Conklin and brothers Jeremiah and Conrad Fisher reminding people of the ones on “The Vampire Diaries” and “Twilight” so of course I was intrigued. Fortunately for me, by the time I watched it, Season 2 had already been released so I could binge to my heart’s content. But wait! The series was based on a YA trilogy written by Jenny Han, and the third book tells everyone who Belly eventually picks. Hmm. With the current writers’ strike going on in Hollywood, production on Season 3 is going to be delayed indefinitely. I couldn’t wait. I read all three books in the past week (they are a quick read) and now I’d like to explore the similarities and differences between the screen adaptation and the books. For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on Season 1 and “The Summer I Turned Pretty” novel. I’ll discuss Season 2 and “It’s Not Summer Without You” in a separate post. Fun fact: The show and the fictional “Cousins Beach” was filmed here in my home state of North Carolina so I loved seeing locations at Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Wilmington (pretty sure Duke University and UNC-Wilmington made appearances in Season 2 as “Finch College” and Brown University).

Here’s how the show was different from the book “The Summer I Turned Pretty:”

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-In the show, the adult characters are fleshed out a bit more. Belly’s mother Laurel (played by Jackie Chung) is a writer who has her own storyline, where in the first book you don’t know much about her. She’s divorced but has a “meet cute” with another local writer named Cleveland Castillo (actor Alfredo Narciso) who is visiting the island for the summer.

-The relationship between the moms Laurel and Susannah Fisher (actress Rachel Blanchard) is explored even more in the series. The book says they are childhood friends but the show insinuates they met in college. In the show the boys talk Susannah into trying an experimental treatment for her cancer in the season finale but that wasn’t a plot point in the book–they just know the cancer has returned.

-In my opinion, Conrad Fisher is much more likeable in the show. Actor Christopher Briney brought him to life in a way you can’t see in the book series. The addition of Conrad’s anxiety and panic attacks gave him more depth. Jeremiah (actor Gavin Casalegno) translates well from book to screen, but in the books Conrad just seems more angry, toxic, and borderline abusive to Belly (actress Lola Tung). He skulks around barely talking to anyone. Jenny Han helped adapt the project to screen so I imagine she helped with this. You never really knew what he was thinking or how he felt in the book. (Can you tell I’m Team Conrad?)

-The show featured a debutante ball storyline Belly participates in, and this was not in the book. It provided a good look at modern-day society events and how they’ve evolved over the years, and it gave Belly’s character the opportunity to be the “belle of a the ball.” (See what I did there?)

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-In the books, Belly comes across as way more immature and impulsive than she does in the show. She also has a more contentious relationship with her friend Taylor (actress Rain Spencer) in the book.

-Belly spends much more time pursuing the relationship with Cam Cameron (actor David Iacono) in the book, in fact throughout most of it, before she drops him like a hot potato. In the show he’s more in the background after two or three episodes.

-Belly’s brother Steven (actor Sean Kaufman) has more of a presence in the show, and even has a love interest in the debutante Shayla (actress Minnie Mills) from the country club where he and Jeremiah are working. (In the book, Conrad has a summer job, but in the show, he ends up giving sailing lessons to local writer Cleveland.)

-The show was inclusive to LGBTQ+ characters, as Jeremiah was written as bisexual and one of the debutante participants brought another young woman as her date.

-In the show, Belly and Jeremiah end up kissing a few times, where in the book, he propositions her and she turns him down because of her feelings for Conrad.

Fun Easter Egg: Author Jenny Han appears in the debutante ball scene.

Those are my thoughts. Did I leave anything out?

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