Let’s Get Lit-erary: Book vs. Adaptation: ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’

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While adaptations are very rarely better than the books they were inspired by, “The Summer I Turned Pretty” is, in fact, an exception. The Amazon Prime series was released on June 17, inspired by the book series of the same name, written by “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” author Jenny Han.  

The series stars newcomer Lola Tung, a recent graduate of LaGuardia, a performing arts school known for celebrity alumni like Al Pacino, Jennifer Anniston and Sarah Paulson. Tung plays Belly Conklin, a high schooler who spends her summers at her family friend’s beach house on Cousins Beach.  

Although the books are marketed as young adult, the characters lack maturity and show very little character development over the course of the series. Questionable decision-making is always in abundance, making it difficult to sympathize with characters or even take the story seriously.  

In contrast, the Prime series resolves many character flaws and incorporates meaningful additions. Every change that was made was for the better.  

For example, a large focus of the first season was the debutante ball Belly partook in. There was no ball in the books, although the second book takes place around prom season.  

Furthermore, the series expanded the role of Belly’s mom, Laurel, and brother, Steven. In the books, Laurel was not an author, nor was her love interest Cleveland, present. Steven, too, did not have a love interest; Shayla and several of Belly’s other friends were all additions specifically written for the show.  

Another element that changed for the better was the infinity necklace Belly’s crush Conrad bought for her. In the books, Belly looks through Conrad’s drawers and takes the necklace, assuming it’s for her. Fortunately, this blatant violation of privacy was corrected and Conrad wound up giving her the necklace in the show.  

The show also had a more diverse cast than was implied in the books, though some viewers took issue with Han’s portrayal of the Asian American experience.  

Of course, however, some special moments were unique to the book. Belly’s stuffed animal, Junior Mint, was shown in her bedroom, but viewers didn’t get to see the backstory of how Conrad won it for her at a fair.  

In addition to the show, the series’ audiobooks were redone by Tung and other cast members. Tung’s narration is beautifully done, almost — but not quite — making up for the sheer absurdity of the books.  

Anticipating success, especially considering the popularity of the movie adaptation of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Prime even renewed the series for a second season before the release of the first.  

Though the setting of the books has a quaint, humble, feel to it, the show’s version of Cousins Beach and its inhabitants are far more attractive. The show expands events and relationships, taking the cake plot-wise, as well. All in all, Prime’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” adaptation not only exceeds expectations but offers a narrative more compelling than that of the books.  

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