Warning: this article contains spoilers for Amazon Prime Video’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, and Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy.
The TV adaptation of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty made quite a splash when it debuted in mid-June. Social media was rife of people debating about character ships and storylines, as well as recommending the series. As a lot of the recommendations came from fans of the books who were thrilled with the adaptation, I thought I’d give it a go and watch the TV show as well as read the book to see how they compared.
I was expecting to have a pleasant experience with both texts due to the reviews I’d seen online. However, that was not the case. Instead, I found myself consuming two problematic texts, which, in my opinion, are inherently toxic in nature.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is posed as a “coming of age” story in which the protagonist, Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin, explores love, and the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. At its core, the novel does do this, but unfortunately in a problematic way. Both the novel and its adaptation reinforce stereotypes that have been present within our society for many years now: an obsession with image and wealth, love triangles, girl-on-girl hate, the ugly duckling/makeover trope, judgemental characters, toxic masculinity, and heteronormative culture that was somewhat idolised.
Even though, as mentioned above, both versions of The Summer I Turned Pretty reinforce these stereotypes, the TV adaptation does work to change some of the novel’s content (which was published in 2009) to reflect the societal changes that have occurred throughout the past decade, such as diversity, sexual fluidity, and the exploration of racism.
This was great to see, as many adaptations—or even new content—do not do this, and were what made the adaptation watchable. However, I still think the content of both texts can be harmful to viewers in some regard. Especially seeing as the original novel is written for young adult audiences, with the adaptation catering to the same age range but with a slightly wider scope.
Both versions of The Summer I Turned Pretty focus on an obsession on image and status: both self and that of others. Personally, I feel as though this focus is more dangerous within our social media influenced society, where this obsession with image and status is definitely present. And whilst there is still going to be content that deals with this, there needs to be more challenging of these unrealistic standards instead of leaning into, and further embracing, this dangerous perfectionism.