The Summer I Turned Pretty
Lola Tung, Jackie Chung, Rachel Blanchard, Christopher Briney
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Han brings a level of charisma and likeability to her characters that makes even the most brooding and angst-ridden teen compelling to watch.
A touching, enjoyable addition to the teen romance genre, The Summer I Turned Pretty is author-turned-showrunner Jenny Han’s (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) latest work to make the jump from page to screen.
Isabel “Belly” Conklin has spent every summer since she was a baby holidaying with her mum Laurel and brother Steven at Cousins Beach. Joined by her mum’s college bestie Susannah, and Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah, Cousins Beach was always a lazy getaway, an opportunity for the mums and the kids to bond. This summer things are different: on the cusp of her 16th birthday, Belly isn’t a little kid any more, and her innocent friendship with Conrad, the boy she’s been crushing on since she was 10 years old, and his brother Jeremiah, are about to get a whole lot more complicated.
On the surface, it’s your standard coming-of-age fare, complete with inescapable love triangle, but as always Han brings a level of charisma and likeability to her characters that makes even the most brooding and angst-ridden teen compelling to watch.
Newcomer Lola Tung takes on the role of Belly, doing an admirable job playing the lead despite this being her very first acting credit. A refreshing change from the “you don’t know you’re beautiful” YA heroines we’ve grown accustomed to, Belly is – as the title suggests – pretty and learning to make the most of it. There’s a self-centred superficiality to the character and yet Tung approaches her with a kind of effortless charm that will have audiences championing her even at her most bratty.
By adapting and updating her own words for the screen, Han brings an authenticity to the teen’s language and social dynamics; gone is the rich bully versus plucky underdog hero trope we’ve seen from this genre time and again. The fictional Cousins Beach is home to its fair share of debutantes and trust fund babies but there’s a complexity to each of the characters, allowing just enough conflict to keep things interesting but never fully straying from the light-hearted emotionality we’ve come to expect from Han’s works.
While the plot touches lightly on some heavier themes like racism, classism, and grief, The Summer I Turned Pretty is ultimately a light and fluffy escape where the summer feels endless and first loves are forever.