Inside Jenny Han's Decade-Long Journey to Bring The Summer I Turned Pretty to TV

Thirteen years after its release, the TV adaptation of the beloved YA novel is finally premiering on Amazon Prime Video. Author and co-showrunner Jenny Han tells E! News why the wait was so worth it.

By Tierney Bricker Jun 17, 2022 12:00 PMTags
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Thirteen years later, Jenny Han is finally returning to Cousins Beach.

Amazon Prime Video's adaptation of the author's 2009 novel The Summer I Turned Pretty premieres on June 17, delivering a new YA love triangle for audiences to obsess over. Centering on the complicated relationships between one girl and the two brothers she's grown up vacationing with, the show is a coming-of-age tale about the magic of firsts and the nostalgia that only a summer romance can deliver. (Basically, it's a Taylor Swift song come to life.)

While the To All the Boys I've Loved Before film franchise, which is based on Han's other bestselling trilogy, became a pop culture phenomenon after the first movie debuted on Netflix in 2018, the author had Summer on her mind for quite some time. 

"It has been a really long journey," Han told E! News in a recent phone interview. "There had been interest in making it into a movie or a TV show, but it never felt quite right to me."

First Look: The Summer I Turned Pretty

Han first began working on the adaptation for The Summer I Turned Pretty in 2018 and sold it just before To All the Boys I've Loved Before premiered. The wait proved to be worth it as Han is serving as co-showrunner on the new series. "I actually feel really lucky and happy that it took this long," she said, "because then I was the one who was able to make it."

And she knew exactly how she wanted to do it.

"I wanted it to feel like a locket that you find, you open it up and there's this picture inside," Han explained. "It's a memory, but at the same time, I wanted it to feel resonant and current and raw."

Getty Images

Revisiting something she wrote almost a decade prior, Han's goal was to appeal to two different audiences: "The older readers who read it 13 years ago, for them to remember the first time they fell in love or had that one crazy summer, and then for people who are young to watch it and feel like it feels relevant to their life today."

That meant she approached the adaptation with one question in mind: "If I was telling this story now, how would I be telling it?"

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"The characters are all still the same, but I think with so much time passing it's just a different moment," Han said. "In the book, they're millennials and now, the way that culture moves so fast, we have these little micro-generations. Even though 13 years doesn't sound like much, it's a significant amount of time that's passed and culture has moved in so many different ways, even from technology to diversity."

Dana Hawley / Prime Video

After modernizing the story—including making one of the main characters sexually fluid and diversifying the cast—Han's top priority was finding her summer girl. 

"Gosh, we were looking for months and we saw a lot of amazing young women for this part," Han said of the casting process to find their Belly Conklin. "We had so many great options."

But when she watched newcomer Lola Tung's audition, the search was over.

"The whole time I was watching it I felt like I was at the Olympics and I was a mom in the stands watching her, like, 'Yeah, she can do this!'" Han explained with a laugh. "I was just rooting for her so hard. She has a quality to her that makes people root for her and just be invested in her journey. She is perfect. She has that vulnerability to her, but also this lively energy that just grabs the world with both hands. To me, it just matches the character so well. She is Belly. She is my perfect Belly."

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Next up were the boys of summer and the two other points of the love triangle, Conrad and Jeremiah, the Fisher brothers who could not be more different in disposition, but, you know, have to feel related.

Christopher Briney was cast first as the older, brooding bad(ish) boy Conrad, who Belly has been in love with almost her entire life. 

"When I first saw Chris, I was really blown away by his talent," Han said. "It's a hard character to nail because he's so insular. He's not really letting people in and he's all in his head, so I think for an actor, that's definitely a challenge to communicate who that character is and make people connect with them even if you're not saying much."

Peter Taylor / Amazon Prime

If Conrad is a storm cloud that unexpectedly rolls in while you're at the beach, his younger brother and Belly's best friend Jeremiah is the human embodiment of sunshine. 

"Once you pick a Conrad, you are trying to find a Jeremiah that matches and feels like they could be brothers," Han explained. "They are mirroring them a little bit."

Gavin Casalegno proved to have that "golden retriever energy" that perfectly suited the role.

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"Jeremiah is a character that doesn't try hard," Han said. "He is just so comfortable in his own skin and I think Gavin has so much Jeremiah in him, it felt like a really natural match."

Given that The Summer I Turned Pretty centers on the emotional love triangle between Belly and the two brothers, Han is aware fans will definitely have a favorite by the end of season one...not that the story will be over as Amazon Prime Video has already ordered a second season, which plays into Han's ultimate design to adapt each book in the series.

Prime Video

"I would love it if we could get three seasons," Han said. "That would be a dream come true because then we'd really get to tell the story."

Of course, Han is aware that fans of the original trilogy will be anticipating certain scenes—don't worry, Belly and Conrad have that pool moment in the series premiere—or quotes that have lived on in Pinterest infamy, but she didn't put pressure herself to include them in the show.

"I see the stuff that fans are saying, like, 'If it's not exactly like the book I'm going to cry,'" Han said. "Do not cry!"

Dana Hawley / Prime Video

"It will not be exactly like the books because no experience is exactly like the book," she continued. "The best version of these books is the one you already saw in your own head. In your own head, you produced that story, you envisioned the character and the clothes and the set design, that was something you already did as a reader and that was your experience. This show is not taking away that experience from you. This is just my version of it and you always have your version of it, so hopefully they can still find happiness in the story."

The Summer I Turned Pretty season one debuts June 17 on Amazon Prime Video.