When it comes to teen rom-coms, one of the biggest names in the subgenre has been Jenny Han. His series To all the boys I’ve loved before was made into a hit Netflix movie in 2018 and officially launched her into the pop culture sphere. Since then she has been working not only to bring the original To all the boys spin off, XO, Kittyto life but also to the launch of a new series, The summer when I became prettybased on his new trilogy of the same name.
The Prime Video series has already been renewed for another season and sees Han as co-creator alongside Gabrielle Stanon as well as one of the executive producers. The summer when I became pretty follows the story of two women and their families. Susan (Rachel Blanchard) and Laurel (Jackie Chung) have been best friends their entire lives and stuck together through thick and thin. Every summer they bring their children to Cousins Town Beach House for a memorable and magical summer.
This summer, things change, as Laurel’s daughter, Belly (Lola Tung) finds herself in the spotlight after growing up into a young woman. She attracts the attention of Susannah’s sons, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremy (Gavin Casalegno), the first being Belly’s not-so-subtle lifelong crush. Things get more complicated as secrets are revealed, love triangles are formed and the two families have an unforgettable summer.
With all of Season 1 of The summer when I became pretty currently available to stream on Prime Video, I spoke with Han about his time writing the series, a bit of his inspiration and method, and telling a balanced story. Most book devotees fall somewhere on the spectrum between wanting a completely faithful book-to-screen adaptation and being open to a completely original and different interpretation.
For Han, it was about approaching her own novels through the eyes of her fans, she said:
I approached it as, in my opinion, what are the most important elements of the story to keep? And what do fans care about most? I’m able to draw on all the emails, letters, and comments I’ve seen over the years from fans, which is how we envisioned this adaptation. What do original fans care about most? And then, also for me, what is going to be the most fun and exciting to explore? Because I think as a writer you also have to feel like you’re doing something new in some way. That it won’t be exactly the same, but what’s the new approach? And how can I make this fresh?
The series certainly reflects that, taking what worked for the novel and reworking it for the screen while making room for new developments made specifically for the series. She also opened up about what it was like to transition into TV writing from her rather unconventional writing style when it comes to her novels. She says:
I think in my life as a writer, I don’t outline, and that’s very intuitive for me. Imagine it like I’m walking through a forest blindfolded, and groping my way, and I know where the end point is, but it’s kind of like, how am I going to get there? I also don’t write in order and I see it when it’s like 85%, 90% there, then everything becomes clear to me. I often imagine that I am Iron Man. It was like a click, click, click, all the pieces fit together. That’s how I see the story, and suddenly it becomes clear to me.
Since TV writing is much more structured with page limitations and budgets, Han explained that she might try writing her next book after this TV writing experience.
Having written the To all the boys books, The summer when I became pretty books, and with XO, Kitty Along the way, Han has achieved a level of balance between telling authentic Asian stories (especially through the lens of biracial protagonists) without leaning too heavily on the character’s racial identity. When I asked her how she achieves this balance, she said:
I approach it as, how do I write this character authentically and make it feel real and truthful to someone’s lived experience? I don’t think anyone’s lived experience is entirely encapsulated by their racial identity. I think a lot of times for me as a writer I’ll be asked to talk specifically about being an Asian American writer and I love talking about that, but at the same time I also feel like it’s not necessarily the most interesting thing about me, this identity. I think everyone is made up of a lot of different things, and as a storyteller I think first and foremost about the story and what feels really true to that story.
Watch my full interview with Han above, where we also talk about some of her comfort books to read and she, surprisingly, shares a favorite author with the author of this particular article! (Lily Sherry Thomas!)
The summer when I became pretty Season 1 is streaming now on Prime Video.