REVIEW: A Summer to Remember in ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’

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The Summer I Turned Pretty - But Why Tho

I have never cried as hard watching any TV show in my life as I did watching The Summer I Turned Pretty, an Amazon Original YA series based on the book by Jenny Han (To All The Boys). Let’s start there. Belly (Lola Tung) has been coming to Cousins to stay at her mom’s (Jackie Chung) best friend’s (Rachel Blanchard) with her brother Steven (Sean Kaufman) and Susannah’s two boys, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) every summer since forever. This summer is going to be different though. This summer, she’s finally going to be with Conrad after crushing on him for half her life.

Where to even begin? The Summer I Turned Pretty is so many things at once. It’s about friendship. It’s about love. It’s about where the two meet. It’s about growing up and growing older and it’s about finding who you are while also learning to let go. Over seven episodes of roughly 40 minutes each, you get all the joys of summer nights, the hardships of summer loves, and the blessings of two families who could not be closer to one another. It’s a story steeped in privilege, to have these luxuries is nothing small, and the show is keenly aware of this, working its hardest to make everything and everyone across the show as wholesome as can be.

I think that’s what I admire most about the show. I mostly knew what I was getting from the onset—a central part of the show is that Susannah convinces Belly to be a part of the local debutant group for the first time this summer, both literally and symbolically representing her first summer of really putting herself out there and not just living in the shadow of the boys. And in a lot of ways, the show does just follow the expected steps of meeting boys, getting distracted from her Conrad-centered worldview, meeting the other debs and realizing they’re actually not so bad, and so forth. That’s what’s comforting about the genre, it’s reliable and comfortable in a lot of ways. But The Summer I Turned Pretty and its often telegraphed plot steps work so exceptionally well because it takes serious time to develop every single one of its characters, making their journies individually and together so rich and so satisfying to watch.

Especially because it’s not just Belly. Of course, her journey is at the center and the directions that she learns and grows in are all important. But so too are her brother’s and Conrad’s and Jeremiah’s, and especially Susannah’s and her mom Laurel’s. There is so much quality time spent with every one of these characters, each acted so endearingly. We get the chance to understand them each as their own people, as well as in relation to one another. The long, longstanding love they all share is so sweet and quite high in the pantheon of families by choice as far as I’m concerned. It’s really especially nice watching the two mothers’ relationship and their own individual journies. That the show isn’t just about the teens and shows the adults in it as full people too is really special. The supporting cast of friends and lovers that fill out the rest of the show are equally endearing, feeling like more than just sub-plots for the main characters to fulfill.

Of course, the show is a romance too. This is not what draws me into it the most personally, and not because of any predisposition about the genre or anything. It just feels like an afterthought to so much of the rest of the show so often. Honestly, is great and refreshing, because our lives are full of so many more experiences than just romance, and YA can often get boiled down to just the romance too easily sometimes for me. But when it is at the forefront, it’s very messy, in a way that teenagedom certainly is in real life. The most precious part of all the romantic plots to me is that in general, these are some of the most honest and emotionally honest teens around, but they’re still just as likely to fall into communication traps or make mistakes with one another. It’s just that ultimately, they nearly always talk it out in refreshingly mature ways. It’s really nice to see.

The one exception tends to be Conrad. He is designed as the mysterious and brooding character who goes through mood swings as he deals with depression and other challenges. I’m really impressed with Briney’s ability to swing between Conrad’s different moods and I think he represents that particular place in many teens’ lives very well, with smoldering stares equal to his bright smiles. I’m just a bit disappointed that we don’t see him getting more direct support from his brother and Steven when otherwise everyone in the show is usually so aware and open. It feels like a decision to serve the plot more than to serve the characters, to his detriment. The season ends without ever really rectifying this concern for me, although I’m confident it will should the show have two more seasons to complete the book series’ story. That is, if I can handle going through the absolutely unbelievable emotional ups and downs this series brought down on me in additional seasons. I will speak no further on it, as you deserve to experience that all for yourself.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is so many things. But the one thing it is most certainly is excellent. Not all of its many threads feel complete for me, especially in the romance and Conrad departments, but I imagine to an extent that’s a bit intentional as there is clearly room for further seasons. For now though, this is, for so many reasons and with so many emotions, a summer to remember.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is streaming on Amazon Prime Video June 17th.


The Summer I Turned Pretty
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    Rating - 9/10
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TL;DR

The Summer I Turned Pretty is so many things. But the one thing it is most certainly is excellent. Not all of its many threads feel complete for me, especially in the romance and Conrad departments, but I imagine to an extent that’s a bit intentional as there is clearly room for further seasons. For now though, this is, for so many reasons and with so many emotions, a summer to remember.