I was sitting in bed last summer when I came across an Instagram post announcing a TV adaptation of Jenny Han’s Summer book series. I immediately turned to my younger cousin (who happened to be my roommate at the time) and told her the news. Her response was to call her sister, and mine, to share the news with them, which inevitably ended up turning into a much-needed, hour-long gossip video call. You see, it was back in 2009 that all four of us first met (and became slightly obsessed with) Belly, Steven, Conrad, Jeremiah, and the Cousins beach house. The Summer I Turned Pretty became an integral part of most of our interactions, even when we were apart — speculating on who Belly would choose and whether or not she would make the “right” choice.
At the time, we’d spend every bit of free time we could hiding away from “real” life and the responsibilities teen girls 14-18 had at our family’s old ranch, Mandinga (although it was later renamed “el Mancho” by my brother who couldn’t pronounce the word “rancho” properly). My family’s ranch used to be a traditional cattle ranch decades ago, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I wasn’t around at that point. Over time, though, it evolved into something different, better even — a big piece of land in front of la Laguna de Tamiahua here in northern Mexico, where each of my grandmother’s siblings got to build their own vacation and retirement houses (not unlike the one Susannah owns in the books and TV series).
Growing up, these houses became a safe space for my cousins and me. Every year, no matter what, we’d all drive down (or actually, we’d have our parents drive us) with cars fully packed with food, snacks, soft drinks, sleeping bags, swimsuits, books, and a few hidden bottles of Bacardi and Absolut (yes, we were underage, yes, we were drinking, and yes, our parents knew). For two weeks a year, we’d disconnect from the world. This was before WiFi was available in rural areas and cell service was so spotty that making a call was an adventure that required climbing on the roof to make a 2 min call. Every year we impatiently waited for Semana Santa vacation hoping for new adventures and anecdotes to keep us going ‘till next year. Much like Jeremiah, Conrad, Belly, and Steve do in The Summer I Turned Pretty, my cousins and I spent every single spring break together at our family’s ranch. No matter what, we would all find our way back there.
It was at El Mancho that my cousins, my sister, and I experienced most of our “big” firsts: our first time drinking, our first hangover, our first crush, our first kiss with the guys from the neighboring ranch who would visit from Monterrey or León.
It was also where we first fell in love with The Summer I Turned Pretty with my oldest cousin introducing the Tribe (as my aunt Vicky would call us) to the books. Each of us would read a copy and then pass it on to the next girl. Once we’d all read them, we’d spend hours talking about it. Funny enough, the book mimicked our experience, and our odd-but-comforting parallel to the characters made it our favorite series.
Now, as a 31-year-old watching the summer adventures and love triangles of Steven, Belly, Conrad, and Jeremiah, I’m transported back to my teenage years and all those spring breaks my Tribe spent together. I get way too invested in the Twitter discourse around the weekly episodes, much like my cousins and I did back when we were teens. Nowadays we don’t get to hang out very often. We’re lucky if we get to see each other for a few hours a year — kids, marriage, different homebase countries, businesses, and corporate jobs insist on keeping us apart for longer than we’d like. However, The Summer I Turned Pretty keeps bringing us together, more than a decade later.
Even when we know what’s coming, we’ll still bicker over who’s a better match for Belly (it’s obviously Conrad, and yes I will die on this hill — although now we’re fully aware that Belly is actually the problem), whether or not we liked her dress for the debutante ball, and whether or not we like Taylor on the first book/season (jury’s still out on this one, we can’t seem to agree) and her new relationship with Steven.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is the gift that keeps on giving since the TV adaptation (which was just renewed for a third season so we now have something to look forward to after the season 2 finale, even if the ongoing strikes make it unclear when we’ll actually get new episodes) is one of the few ways that I get to connect to some of my favorite people. I guess we will always have El Mancho, and we’ll always have The Summer I Turned Pretty.