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‘The Summer I Turned Pretty': Jenny Han Explains the Symbolism of the Debutante Ball

The ”rite of passage“ is one of the major additions to the plot that doesn’t appear in the book series

Another Jenny Han adaptation has officially graced the small screen. “The Summer I Turned Pretty” began streaming Friday on Amazon Prime Video. It tells the story of a love triangle between three teenagers who have known each other practically their entire lives.

Belly (Lola Tung) has been in love with Conrad (Christopher Briney) for as long as she can remember. But this year, returning to Cousins Beach feels different, especially when she starts to realize she might have feelings for his brother Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno). While the summer love radiating from the series is true to the first book, there are several additions to the series to shake things — particularly the Debutante Ball. 

“The Deb Ball was a chance to really bring a rite of passage like a ceremonial rite of passage of growing up to life — to really see that visualized, because I think different cultures have many different ways of marking that moment of between, like, girlhood and adulthood,” Han told TheWrap. “And that’s what Deb Ball is, you’re coming out and being seen as an adult.”

When asked about the change he enjoyed most from the book series, Briney admits that the Deb Ball might be the “obvious” answer, but that it serves a greater meaning for the characters.

“The way it’s talked about in the show is emulative of being a teenager,” he said. “When Conrad talks about how silly it is, and then by the end how important it is and how important it feels — and then it’s just over.”

Casalegno agreed: “I think there’s a lot of symbolism there.” 

But selfishly, Briney would have to say that the Cousins Beach volleyball tournament that the group competes in toward the end of the series might have been the most fun to film. Casalegno’s “competitive spirit” led him to agree.

According to Han, that was exactly the point, and she hopes audiences will feel the same way about watching it play out on screen.

“For the volleyball tournament, it was fun to see — I always think watching a character do something physical and be good at it makes me just like excited and like root for them,” Han said. “Almost like a sports movie where you can, you know, see them excel at something and I think I was excited to see Belly take the lead and show off a bit of who she is at home, versus who she is in the summer at Cousins.”

“The Summer I Turned Pretty” is streaming on Prime Video. Han co-showruns the series with Gabrielle Stanton, as well as executive produces. Han also wrote the pilot.

In addition to Tung, Brinley and Casalegno, the series also stars Jackie Chung, Rachel Blanchard, Sean Kaufman, Alfredo Narciso and Minnie Mills, with Colin Ferguson and Tom Everett Scott.

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