HomeTelevisionThe Summer I Turned Pretty Review: Still Pretty, Way More Heartbreak

The Summer I Turned Pretty Review: Still Pretty, Way More Heartbreak

Lola Tung (Belly), Gavin Casalegno (Jeremiah)
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

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Written by Giana Capri

We’re officially returning to Cousins Beach for another eventful summer with our faves from The Summer I Turned Pretty.

In the first season, we saw Belly’s (Lola Tung) trip to Cousins Beach where she has been spending the summer at her mother’s friend Susannah’s (Rachel Blanchard, Fargo) beach house. Belly shares a close relationship with Susannah and her two sons Conrad (Christopher Briney, Daliland) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno, Walker), who Belly grew up with. But this summer is the most special since Belly has “turned pretty” and finally caught the attention of both brothers. The last season ended with Belly at her debutante ball, finding herself caught in a love triangle. Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah are forced to watch the sand shift underneath their feet while dealing with the possibility that love might not be the answer to stopping things from drifting too far away.

The second season starts with Belly back home, months after the debutante ball. Another summer is coming up, but this time Belly and her family are not going to the beach house. Things are no longer the same and a lot has happened in the months gone by. This season runs in flashbacks where events slowly reveal what took place in the months since the ball. Though the second season introduces some heavy matters like a major death, it doesn’t take away any of the charm and youthfulness that these characters radiate. Belly, Conrad, Jeremiah, and even Belly’s brother Steven (Sean Kaufman, Manifest), not only have to face major changes in their personal lives, but also have to enter into a developmental phase of life.

While the love triangle is the basis of the show, Season 2 introduces two new characters: Susannah’s sister Julia (Kyra Sedgwick, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and her child Skye (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade). These two new faces bring in new problems as Conrad and Jeremiah must deal with the potential of their childhood summer home being sold by their aunt. WIth Conrad and Jeremiah’s cousin involved, it would have been nice to see Skye developing a strong relationship with them, considering Julia and Susannah’s complex dynamic with each other.

Even though there are still a lot of lighthearted and fun moments which made The Summer I Turned Pretty so likable, most of this season puts these characters in situations ranging from awkward to heartbreaking. The world around Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah feels a lot more realistic this time around, and there are certain events that have to do with more difficult parts of the characters’ lives. A significant amount of this season is devoted to dealing with some of these issues, which sets up a different tone for this season.

The Summer I Turned Pretty demonstrates Jenny Han’s — the author of the books — knowledge of the romance genre, particularly as it is directed towards younger women, and the excellence of taking a simple idea and executing it with such skill and organization. Han’s fondness for voiceover can sometimes infringe on the mellow nature of the story, feeling more like an excuse for Han to get some extra words from her novels onto the show.

It’s understandable why Han gives the romantic elements equal emotional weight. To do otherwise would be patronizing. Love triangles, however, are a love-it-or-hate-it trope that are tough to pull off with any real sense of tension or passion. They were practically needed in young adult fiction during the time Han was first published. Even if you haven’t read the books, you’ll know immediately who Belly truly desires and how the events will unfold.

When it allows itself to be a quiet, serious-minded but unpretentious teen drama, The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of the best examples of romance. That aching realism of adolescent confusion is hardly ever portrayed with such protection, and even less so without being covered in nostalgia, which Han makes sure to avoid. Adults could find enjoyment with the show, but it’s teen-aimed and wants young women to find themselves amid the mixture of nostalgic imagination and real-life trepidation.

Season 2’s emotional roller coaster serves as a harsh reminder that life isn’t always a breeze, but its unique mix of miserable and magical will have you seated until the end. None of the drama would work if people didn’t care about these characters.

A lot of people create shows about coming of age stories. Few people get them so perfectly awkward and breathtakingly correct. By allowing a lot of cringeworthy moments, gleaming hope, emotions, and beach runs with Taylor Swift songs, The Summer I Turned Pretty pulls people in with the promise of a love triangle, but in time provides a touching reflection on maturity and desire — one that feels like it could be watched over and over again.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is now streaming on Prime Video.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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