Jenny Han on The Summer I Turned Pretty Easter Eggs & the Universal Language of Youth

The Summer I Turned Pretty author and showrunner on the hit series' second season and its hidden connection with To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

by Ysenia Valdez
Originally Published: 

Jenny Han posing for the camera
Photograph by Jingyu Lin. Hair by Josué Perez, makeup by Kirin Bhatty

Warning: spoilers ahead for The Summer I Turned Pretty season two

“Our walls are the same color,” Jenny Han quickly noted on our call over Zoom from her apartment in New York one recent afternoon. Inside her little video box was a picturesque backdrop: floor to ceiling sage green walls flushed with a neatly decorated bookshelf. A site so pristine it could have easily passed for a set. For all I know, there might have been a soundstage just beyond her perfectly cracked-opened door. An extension of her elaborate and meticulous mind, its clear that for the best-selling author and showrunner of Amazon Prime’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, details are second nature to her.

Following the successful film adaptation of her book series To All The Boys I Loved Before, which led to a 3-part film franchise and a spinoff television series, XO, Kitty for Netflix, Han dove back into the world of showrunning to bring her beloved 2009 trilogy The Summer I Turned Pretty to life. In order to stay true to the series—and meet the high expectations of her loyal fanbase—she remained closely involved with every aspect of the show’s fruition. From casting to clothes and music selection, Han has the final say in how the world of Cousins Beach turns.

In Summer’s first season, released in June 2022, Han set the stage for the world of Isabel “Belly” Conklin (Lola Tung) and her summers at the fictional Cousins Beach. Through the lens of Belly, Cousins is a picturesque town off the coast of Massachusetts where the Conklins—Isabel, her brother Steven (Sean Kaufman) and her mom Laurel— have spent every summer for the past sixteen years with the Fisher family, Susannah Fisher and her two sons, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno).

Han masterfully created a sort of pleasantville stand in for any upscale East Coast beach town: think Americana landscaping (hydrangea bushes in full bloom dotting the lushest of green grass), shingle cottages with costal interiors, beach cruisers and the most pristine of country clubs. As we follow Belly’s journey into womanhood—which starts with her debutante ball and ends with the Fisher brothers fighting over her love—we are simultaneously presented with interpersonal details that showcase a different side of Cousins through Laurel, Susannah, and Steven who are more prone to understanding the reality that “pleasantville” isn’t necessarily “pleasant.” By the end of season one, the characters are drenched in a tangled web of life’s most unpleasant realities.

Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Belly (Lola Tung)

Erika Doss

For season two, Han takes the Conklins and Fishers beyond the confines of Cousin Beach, with new locations, characters, music, and, of course, new problems coming to the fore. Below, Han discusses her own summer of realizations, if her characters exist in the same universe, and why she can’t always give the fans what they want:

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was a successful film franchise. Why go the TV route for The Summer I Turned Pretty?

I think that TV is more novelistic. You can really dig into characters and spend hours with them and on their journeys in a way that you can't with a movie. Since TV is more of a writer's medium and movies are more for directors, I just knew I would have more creative control.

There're so many stories that I wish we could have told from the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series, but there just simply wasn't room within the movie. We were able to not only dig into the series for The Summer I Turned Pretty, but also create a new story and really branch out on characters that we don't get to spend as much time with. Steven is one of my favorite characters, but in the second book, he's visiting colleges. So you don't get to see much of Steven or Laurel or anybody who isn't Belly, Jeremiah and Conrad. That still was a challenge even in the TV show, but it's a fun one.

What was the process of introducing new characters in season two that weren’t in the book?

I wanted to build out a bit of the history around the house, and also get to see some of Susannah's family that we haven't met yet. To be able to feel her presence in different ways.

It was nice to feel there was some sense of attachment to Susannah, and not a replacement—that feeling of a female figure.

I'm happy you point that out because I would say that the show is a lot about mothers and daughters. In losing Susannah, we still get to have that motherly force in a house, it's just a different, kind of more antagonistic one.

Were there aspects of the book that you were nervous to see portrayed on screen? How did they turn out?

It's one of those things where the fans will be like, “Please don't let Conrad be mean to Belly at the prom. Or don't let Belly be mean at the funeral.” But those are the moments that people who have read the books are expecting to see, so we have to deliver on those iconic moments and find a way to really ground them. I think we've all said things and done things that we're really ashamed of in moments that we look back on and feel just really horrible about. Especially when you're a teenager where your emotions can feel so wild and out of control, and you're still learning how to manage them.

Belly (Lola Tung) and Conrad (Christopher Briney)

Erika Doss/Prime Video

Were there any influences from your life that you pulled from when developing Belly?

I would say I definitely had that summer of realization. Of going to the beach with friends and then unpacking my speedo and then my friend had all these bikinis. I suddenly felt really behind and young and like a kid. I think those kinds of emotions I'd like to imbue into character. Usually, I think in writing about young people and coming of age that the feeling of embarrassment is such a universal feeling that doesn't really fade over time. It can feel as fresh as it did at the moment.

I read The Summer I Turned Pretty when I was 15, and watching as an adult, it's very true to how your emotions will totally overcome any real life thing happening when you’re young.

Exactly. It’s like two things can be happening at the same time. You can be very sad and grieving that the person that you love the most is dead. And then you can also be really upset that you saw your recent ex-boyfriend with his head in another girl's lap.

From Lara Jean to Belly, do all your characters exist in the same universe? If so, is there a foreseeable crossover between them in the future?

I have a little Easter egg on the cover of Always and Forever, Lara Jean. There's a copy of The Summer I Turned Pretty on the cover in her bedroom, because I feel like Lara Jean would read that book. To me, The Summer I Turned Pretty exists in a slightly more grounded universe. And Lara Jean's world feels a little more heightened.

Okay, let’s get into the fun Culture Diet questions. What books are on your bedside table right now?

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which everyone says is the best book of the year. And I still haven't read it yet! So that's the thing that I'm going to read.

What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?

I just started the new season of And Just Like That. I kind of feel like I'm re-watching Felicity because it's on my TikTok. So now I'm like, maybe I should re-watch it.

What’s the last thing that you Googled on your phone?

The pizza place in my neighborhood.

What albums, playlist, songs are you currently listening to?

I am listening to Lana Del Rey, always Taylor Swift. I'm always trying to find stuff for the show. The things I always play in my apartment when I'm cooking or I'm home are Taylor Swift, Nina Simone, Fleetwood Mac, Harry Styles, Corinne Bailey Rae and Stevie Wonder. Those are my go-tos.

Do you listen to podcasts?


Do you believe in astrology?

Not really. I mean, I'm a Virgo, so I feel like people always say that sounds like a Virgo thing to say. I'm also Year of the Monkey, and I kind of believe a little bit more in the Eastern zodiac. But I would say I'm a skeptic.

What's the significance of the Year of the Monkey?

Creative, mischievous, a trickster. Puzzling. I feel like I would say that that is accurate to me.

The Summer I Turned Pretty season two is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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