Jenny Han Addresses Changes She Made To Summer I Turned Pretty So It Was More Diverse

When Jenny Han’s first YA novel, The Summer I Turned Pretty, hit bookshelves in 2009, it featured a photo of its love triangle trio. On the cover, there was a brunette woman with freckles and the sun beaming off her pale, yet sunkissed skin. For many readers, she was the face of the movie’s lead Isabel “Belly” Conkin, who narrates her eventful summer break, during which she comes of age. In the new Amazon Prime series developed by Han herself, the trilogy receives a much more diverse cast including another Asian-American lead for the romance, which the author has now spoken to. 

Times have obviously changed in the past thirteen years and the romance genre is much more inclusive in regard to to telling Asian-American stories, which was in part normalized by the To All The Boys series starring Lana Condor. The Summer I Turned Pretty gets to reflect Jenny Han’s Korean roots through Belly and is enhanced by the additional diversity within its cast. When speaking to CinemaBlend, the best-selling author said of bringing more inclusion for the streaming adaptation:

It was really exciting. When I was approaching the adaptation, I wanted to really reflect the moment that we're living in. And I think the diversity of characters is a piece of that, so it felt like a really great opportunity to showcase different kinds of talent. We get to have like an Asian American family on the show. And then, we also have a new character Cleveland, who is Filipino. So it's really exciting I think. And I think it feels really natural to the show, to the characters and the story.

In the book series, Belly was depicted as a white woman via the original cover but in the new show, she is a mixed race teen with a Korean mother and white father. Following a history of more traditionally white leads than we can count on a hundred fingers, Jenny Han was excited to “showcase different kinds of talent” first and foremost and reflect the diverse world we live in, which hasn’t often been depicted in an honest way by Hollywood in the past. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty and All The Boys I've Loved Before Jenny Han book covers

(Image credit: Simon & Schuster)

The Summer I Turned Pretty, now available to stream with an Amazon Prime subscription, marks the debut role of Lola Tung in any role ever. Having more Asian-American creators like Jenny Han behind the scenes can usher in more leading roles for young people in the AAPI community like Tung. And alongside her, Sean Kaufman plays her brother, Jackie Chung portrays her mom and Asian-American director Jeff Chan helmed a couple episodes as well. 

As the author and showrunner shared, there’s a new character named Cleveland, played by Alfredo Narciso, who adds Filipino representation among The Summer I Turned Pretty cast. Also, major character Jeremiah, played by Gavin Casalegno, is portrayed as being sexually fluid in the series, whereas he was straight in the books. Within the series, the character is proud to share the girls and boys he’s kissed and still figuring out how to identify his preferences. 

After writing The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy, Jenny Han made All The Boys explicitly about a half-Korean teen and her experiences and featured a Korean model on the cover of the trilogy. Following the success of the film adaptations, Han continues to help bring in diversity to the romance genre, and you love to see it. Her next project is XO, Kitty, an All The Boys spinoff centering on Lara Jean’s younger sister. Check out more of CinemaBlend’s interview with Jenny Han and enjoy streaming her new TV offering. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.