[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 1.]
When it comes to YA page-to-screen adaptations, fans tend to seriously scrutinize how faithful or not they are to the source material. The first season of Prime Video’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, based on rom-com sensation Jenny Han’s 2009 novel of the same name, is no exception. As viewers were finally able to see the TSITP world come to life on screen, many were cataloging its many differences, though it does adopt a similar summery, wistful tone and the key themes of the book. Of course, it’s next to impossible for every detail to be translated with perfect accuracy, but TSITP proved to many that, by adding compelling new characters and plot details, change isn’t such a bad thing.
The Summer I Turned Pretty follows the premise of the first book in Han’s trilogy: 15-year-old Belly Conklin (Lola Tung) returns to Cousins Beach for the summer, where she’s been going since birth with her mother Laurel (Jackie Chung) and brother Steven (Sean Kaufman). There, they stay in the house that belongs to their life-long family friends Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) and her two sons, Jeremiah and Conrad (Gavin Casalegno and Christopher Briney). Belly has had an enormous crush on Conrad for years, and for her whole life, the boys have treated Belly as a little sister. However, this summer is different — Belly has come into her own, and the brothers take notice. As a new summer dynamic emerges, she grapples with shifting relationships and figuring out her own identity.
Though the basis of the plot is the same, how closely does the new series stick to the first TSITP book? Read on for the differences between The Summer I Turned Pretty show and book.
A More Linear Timeline
Though the series makes use of flashbacks more than once — mostly involving Belly and Conrad’s relationship — the episodes mostly take place in the present day, following the summer when Belly is about to turn 16 from start to finish. In the book, however, readers get to spend whole chapters with Belly in Cousins during different years (from ages 9 to 14), interspersed between the chapters set in the present.
In the show, some details from earlier summers were put into the here and now: For one, Belly’s best friend Taylor (Rain Spencer) visits the house and stirs up quite a bit of drama for the Conklin and Fisher kids, flirting with all three boys and sparking quite a bit of jealousy in Belly, taking after the novel. In the first book, however, Taylor arrives the summer prior, when Belly is 14, and by the next summer, the two have mostly grown apart. Though they resolve their issues later on in the trilogy, their reconciliation is sped up to fit within the first season.
Steven Stays in Cousins
Belly’s big brother shows up at the start of the novel, making a memorable impression with some hilarious teasing but leaves well before Belly’s birthday to tour colleges with his father. He’s absent for the bulk of the major events of the current summer, though he does appear in some of the chapters set in the past.
However, in the series, Steven never leaves and is the source of much of its humor and heart. He takes a job at the country club and falls for one of the debutantes: popular, wealthy 16-year-old Shayla (Minnie Mills), who is one of quite a few new characters created for the series. The show expands on Steven’s emotional depth as he works through the ups and downs of his new relationship.
More Insight Into Conrad
Limited to Belly’s perspective, the book provides very little insight into Conrad’s character until he lets her in on his feelings towards the closing chapters. The show, on the other hand, adds a lot more dimension to Conrad and his struggle over the course of the seven episodes. Similar to the books, he’s closed off and abrasive, hurting Belly’s feelings to push her away, and like Belly, we don’t know why that is until closer to the end — though, viewers find out the reason before she does.
The show makes use of one of the new characters, an author named Cleveland Castillo (Alfredo Narciso) who takes interest in Belly’s mom, to get Conrad to open up about what’s been weighing on him all season. After he becomes a sort of mentor figure to Conrad, there’s a scene that delves into Conrad’s mental health as Cleveland helps him through a panic attack. The show sheds light on the stress that Conrad is under and provides more insight into the cause behind the hostility he treats Belly and everyone else in his life with.
Jeremiah Is Sexually Fluid
One of the ways Han updated the series to more accurately reflect 2022, she said, is Jeremiah’s sexuality. Jeremiah, one third of the show’s love triangle, doesn’t only express interest in women as he does in the trilogy. Almost right out of the gate, there’s a scene at the country club’s pool where Jeremiah points out to Steven all the girls and boys he’s made out with. Flirty and charismatic like his book counterpart, Jeremiah kisses a boy at a party in another scene before he sets his sights on pursuing Belly later on in the series.
The Debutante Ball
The series uses Belly’s immersion into the debutante world as a tool to drive the narrative and her character growth, whereas in the book, she mostly sticks to the house while going on a date with Cam (David Iacono) here and there. At Susannah’s persistence, Belly reluctantly becomes a debutante, which helps the show open up Belly’s world beyond the confines of the Fisher house. We get to see more of Cousins and its residents; the characters that partake in the Debutante Ball, aside from one, are all new.
In the book, a character named Nicole (Summer Madison) flirts with Conrad and clashes with a jealous Belly. In the series, at first, her character appears to be the same. However, though Nicole continues to be a love interest for Conrad, Belly’s jealousy subsides as the two girls become friends: Nicole becomes Belly’s ‘big sister’ debutante to guide her through the event. With their shared interest in Conrad, things get messy sometimes, but their friendship holds strong in the end.
Belly & Jeremiah’s Relationship
In the show, Jeremiah, spurred on by Belly and Conrad getting closer, realizes that he’s had more-than-friendly feelings toward Belly for a while. He even tries to sabotage his brother and keep him and Belly from exploring their feelings. After he tells her that he’s interested in her, Belly and Jeremiah kiss and more or less enter a romantic relationship, even though they don’t really label it until she asks Jeremiah to be her date to the Deb Ball. All the while, Belly tries to ignore her lingering feelings for his brother, focusing on how Jeremiah is the more dependable of the two.
In the book, however, Jeremiah declares his feelings for Belly after she breaks up with Cam. Belly shuts down her best friend quickly — she tells him she isn’t over Conrad. After, he pretends it didn’t happen, treating Belly as usual. Jeremiah and Belly never kiss, unlike on the show (though, the first book mentions he was her first kiss during a previous summer’s truth or dare game). Instead, she and Conrad do, and they become romantically involved at the end. In Season 1, things still remain a bit up in the air, and the love triangle is sure to still be in full swing come Season 2.
More Time With the Mothers
The show opens up the novel’s limited first-person perspective, following the summer of each member of the Conklin and Fisher family without being restricted to Belly’s viewpoint. Belly has some idea that something is up with Susannah in the novel — she overhears her mom and Susannah arguing about whether or not to tell the boys something — while show-Belly has no idea anything at all is wrong. The viewer, however, is let in on the secret early in the season: Susannah’s cancer has come back, and she wants to keep it a secret from the kids so they can have one last perfect summer. This fact isn’t revealed to readers until the end of the novel.
The relationship between Susannah and Laurel is given a lot more time to breathe in the series as we see them both struggling with Susannah’s cancer, but we also see the profound, joyful bond between two women who have been friends for decades. Many scenes are quite fun — there’s a particularly memorable original scene where the kids find their mothers stoned and snacking in the kitchen — but they’re balanced with deeply emotional exchanges including when Laurel argues, like in the book, that Susannah should tell the children the truth. Susannah’s illness and her children’s coping with it are likely to be the main drivers of the plot in Season 2, for which TSITP has already been renewed.
The Summer I Turned Pretty, Season 1, Streaming Now, Prime Video