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Jenny Han's young adult book 'The Summer I Turned Pretty' is now a Prime Video series

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

The new Prime Video series, "The Summer I Turned Pretty," tells the story of one teenage girl whose summer goes the way it always does, except for one thing. The two boys she's known her whole life are looking at her differently, and suddenly she has a big choice to make.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY")

LOLA TUNG: (As Belly) Susannah told me that when I was born, she knew I was destined for one of her boys. I always hoped it would be Conrad, but here I am, about to kiss Jeremiah Fisher.

DAVIS: It's adapted from a young adult novel by Jenny Han, whose other books include "To All The Boys I've Loved Before," which was released as a film on Netflix in 2018. For this project, Han helped adapt the script and served as a co-showrunner. She joins us now along with Lola Tung, who stars as Isabel Conklin, a.k.a. Belly. Welcome to you both.

JENNY HAN: Thank you.

TUNG: Thank you so much.

DAVIS: Jenny, can you start by explaining the premise here? Who is Isabel Conklin, and what happens to her the summer she, quote, "turns pretty"?

HAN: She is a girl who lives in the suburbs who gets to have this sort of magical summer every summer, going to her mom's best friend's beach house. And it's just her favorite place in the world. And, yeah, so this is the summer when things finally change for her.

DAVIS: And, Jenny, at the core of this summer is a love triangle.

HAN: I love there being sort of two delicious choices, and then no matter what, you will feel devastated because you can't have both. And this particular love triangle is juicy, I think, in part because it's with two brothers, and they've all known each other their whole lives. And I would say each brother provides something different for her and answers a different, like, desire or need.

DAVIS: Lola, it can be really intimidating to bring a book that is really popular to screen. What was your process in figuring that out and how to bring Belly to life?

TUNG: Yeah. There was, you know, a little bit of pressure. And of course I wanted to make the book fans happy because they have such a special connection to the book and to Jenny's writing and to the story and the characters. And it was cool because I also could sort of relate to her. You know, we're both teenagers, and we both know what it's like to feel all the emotions of a 16-year-old girl. And obviously we're not exactly the same and we don't have exactly the same experiences, but I think that feeling when you're 16 years old and it feels like every single emotion and feeling and interaction is like the biggest and most important thing in the world - and I remember exactly what that felt like.

And I think like her, I also really, you know, deeply care about making my family and the people that I love proud. And that's sort of, you know, like, why she goes on this, like, debutante ball journey. And I think she also really wants to make her mother proud.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, the title of the show and of the novel is "The Summer I Turned Pretty." And it seems to be this idea that there is this moment when a girl suddenly becomes worthy of attention or aware of how her looks are affecting her life. I want to listen to a clip from the series. This is a moment at the end when Belly's looking in the mirror, preparing for a debutante ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY")

TUNG: (As Belly) Girls aren't supposed to know if we're pretty or not.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK U, NEXT")

ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) Now I listen and laugh. One taught me love. One taught me patience. And one taught me...

TUNG: (As Belly) We're supposed to wait for other people to tell us before we're allowed to feel it about ourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK U, NEXT")

GRANDE: (Singing) Loved and I've lost. But that's not what I see. So look what I've got. Look what you've taught me.

TUNG: (As Belly) But isn't that [expletive]? Because we're all beautiful in our own ways.

DAVIS: What is it you wanted to communicate to young women about beauty and that external validation?

HAN: I was wanting to communicate that you should not feel embarrassed about taking pride in your beauty inside and out. And I think especially for teenage girls, it's, like, a hard moment because, you know, you are being viewed differently as you get older and you're going through puberty, and there is this sort of newfound attention that can feel, like, exciting and thrilling, but also it can feel like scary at the same time. When I look back at myself at that age and how I felt about the way I looked, I just wish I knew that I was beautiful and we are all beautiful. And that should be celebrated, and it shouldn't be a thing that young women should be made to feel ashamed of.

DAVIS: Lola, this was, I think it's fair to say, a breakout role for you as an actor. A big part of being an actor is being seen by the world. Can you relate at all to your character when it comes to this sudden increased visibility?

TUNG: I absolutely could relate to that. And I think while we were filming, it's really hard to constantly be on camera and see yourself on camera and see yourself all over social media and not be critical and not judge yourself, especially when so many other people have opinions, too. And I think I am very hard on myself as well. And I think playing Belly did help me to give myself a little more grace and go easy on myself a little bit because it's really, really hard to constantly be seen, you know? But I'm working on it, and I think we all are. It's hard in this day and age with the internet.

DAVIS: Jenny, more broadly in your writing, you really focus a lot on the teenage years. And is there something about that period of life that compels you as a writer?

HAN: Yeah. I think that, as a writer, I'm really fascinated by first times. And I just think it's so fertile. It's so rich and resonant because everyone remembers their first times that they experienced something - your first heartbreak, first love, you know, first, like, big disappointing failure. You remember that stuff. And I think as you get older, the stuff in the middle can get a bit fuzzy. But I can look back on those years, and it could still just feel as, like, sharp and pungent in my brain. So it's a place that I like to spend time in.

DAVIS: Jenny Han, writer and co-showrunner of the new Prime Video series "The Summer I Turned Pretty," and Lola Tung, who stars. Thank you both for being with us.

HAN: Thank you.

TUNG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.