"The Summer I Turned Pretty": Why someone you know is likely obsessed with this young adult series

The Prime Video series swept the nation off its feet with its messy, teenage love triangle and summer angst

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published August 26, 2023 10:59AM (EDT)

Lola Tung as Belly and Gavin Casalegno as Jeremiah in "The Summer I Turned Pretty" (Prime Video)
Lola Tung as Belly and Gavin Casalegno as Jeremiah in "The Summer I Turned Pretty" (Prime Video)

If you were to conjure the idealistic, dreamy summer romance of a teenage girl's dopamine-filled brain — "The Summer I Turned Pretty" would be the physical manifestation of the delusional, teenage girl dream and mine. 

In the summer of the repackaged girlhood – from the mega heights of Greta Gerwig's "Barbie," Beyoncé and Taylor Swift's outfit-slaying tours, and most importantly, Megan Thee Stallion coining "Hot Girl Summer" in 2019 – literally changed the fabric of how girls and women on the internet describe menial tasks like walks (hot girl walk) or just dinner (girl dinner) — all of these moments are intertwined with the massive explosion and appeal of "The Summer I Turned Pretty"

The Prime Video series is based on the trilogy of the same name from "To All the Boys I l Loved Before" author Jenny Han — who also serves as the show's creator and co-showrunner. The YA drama follows Isabel (Lola Tung), a teenage Asian American girl who goes by the embarrassing family nickname Belly. She's been summer vacationing in the beach town called Cousins since her early adolescence alongside her mom Laurel (Jackie Chung) and older brother Steven (Sean Kaufman). They join her mom's best friend Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) and her now teenage sons — Conrad (Chris Briney), the older brother and object of Belly's longtime affection, and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno), the younger Fisher brother and also another love interest for Belly.

The show really starts when Belly returns to Cousins at 15 turning 16 and has blossomed into a bonafide hot girl. Boom, a messy brotherly love triangle and summer high jinks commence. Think "Dawson's Creek," "90210" and "The OC."

The teen drama formula only works when it hits the zeitgeist at the perfect moment, and then it's just magic. It's able to grow and take off just like the second season of "The Summer I Turned Pretty" did. The show is still in the Top 10 most streamed shows on the platform since the second season's release on July 14, has already renewed for a third season and has been trending on TikTok and Twitter throughout July and August. Women and people of all ages dissect each episode online, arguing about #TeamConrad and #TeamJeremiah until they're blue in the face. It has reignited an audience's investment and passion for love triangles again.

So more than that — why is "The Summer I Turned Pretty" having a moment right now? This is the summer I list all the ways why the series turned into a mega-hit. 

Online chatter and a weekly release created buzz
The Summer I Turned PrettyThe Summer I Turned Pretty (Prime Video)
The show did relatively well in its first season, which was released as a binge, and really hit the ground running when it blew up on TikTok last year. Creator Jenny Han posted a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage of the cast on TikTok, helping create a bond or parasocial relationship between the fans, the cast and the characters.
But something shifted this season when only the first three episodes were released in its first week in July, followed by solo episode drops weekly, following the broadcast linear model. This allowed people behind to catch up and stream as the rest of the world was waiting for new episodes. And during that time they got online and discussed the show. This created a kind of word-of-mouth chain reaction which resulted in increased viewership and interest in the show and the quickly unraveling love triangle. Somehow this infected an even bigger circle, reaching people who were offline and removed from the shipping discourse.
The Fisher brothers' addictive love triangle
The Summer I Turned PrettyGavin Casalegno as Jeremiah and Christopher Briney as Conrad in "The Summer I Turned Pretty" (Prime Video)
In the first season, we saw Belly dip her toes into her messy crushes for both Fisher brothers. She made out with Jeremiah a couple of times. But the big moment was when the season ended in a sweeping first kiss with Conrad – her childhood first love – right before daybreak on the beach while Taylor Swift's "This Love" serenaded the young couple.
The new season elevated the love triangle with every episode flashing to the past and present, building on the depth of their feelings. Viewers received a glimpse of the earnest beginning and inevitable unraveling of the volatile relationship between Conrad and Belly. The spark between Jeremiah and Belly reignites in a grand kiss and Conrad catches the two entangled in one another despite Conrad's deeply buried love for his ex-girlfriend Belly. In the meantime, the brothers throw each other jealous daggers, pine for a confused and grieving Belly, and launch verbal darts at each other's hearts.
What's better than two boys fighting over you? Oh yeah, two blood-related brothers — please note my sarcasm. But regardless of how you feel about the type of love triangle that it is — Han's writing and the actors sell the angst and romance, and the audience ate it up. You can hate me for it but I myself am #TeamConrad.
Belly's teenage messiness
The Summer I Turned PrettyLola Tung as Belly in "The Summer I Turned Pretty" (Prime Video)
Love her or hate her – Belly is an effective protagonist. She gets a rise out of people – so much so that people were cheering when her mom slapped her this season (I know, yikes). Putting aside the corporal punishment, Belly's messiness is one of the many reasons people stay tuned into the show weekly. She's not the smartest person in the room and doesn't pretend to be. She's impulsive, she's imperfect and she's in love while grieving. Her complicated, wishy-washy feelings for Conrad and Jeremiah feel like they're larger than life because they are; she's a 16-year-old girl, after all. She makes mistakes, is fairly judged for them and then is given grace. That is a refreshing change of pace for a female Asian-led teen drama. She is at the front and center of her own story, as the desirable, wanted messy hot girl.
Grief and love: polar opposite emotions and experiences
The Summer I Turned PrettyLola Tung as Belly and Rachel Blanchard as Susannah in "The Summer I Turned Pretty" (Prime Video)

Outside of the love triangle and Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah's mom Susannah also saw the recurrence of her cancer in flashbacks throughout the season. The nonlinear storytelling shows the audience that Susannah is slowly fading, becoming weaker, while we already have seen in flashforwards that she will die.

All the other characters are shown grappling with what losing Susannah will mean to them and how they will continue life without her. Some live in denial and avoidance (Laurel), some live in deep grief (Conrad), some try to find the light (Belly), and others become a stable, grounding force (Jeremiah). But it all implodes when she dies. Belly and Conrad try to love the grief out of each other and of course, it's all too conflicting and painful to work. The show's honest, raw depiction of intertwined grief and love rings true to the reality of life and the complexities of the human condition.

People just want to watch television that they can see themselves in, something that can trigger emotion so we can scream at our TVs, something that will give us the cathartic release our real lives can't. Then again, we've all shared in a collective grief for the past few years, so for a show that balances the heartache of first love with the pain of losing someone, it boils down what we've all come to understand matters most. I would say we can't really escape from "The Summer I Turned Pretty" so you might as well join in on the girlish, angsty mess while Beyoncé and Taylor Swift serenade the soundtrack of your life. 


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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