While watching the first three episodes of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” season two — released Friday, July 14, on Amazon Prime Video — I came back to one thought over and over: can someone be nice to Belly?! Stop reading if you haven’t watched yet, but when the show picks up, the school year is about to end, and Belly (Lola Tung) is bereft because their family friend Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) has died about a month ago. Susannah’s illness has hung over the whole school year, with Belly’s mom, Laurel (Jackie Chung), spending a lot of time going back and forth to the Fisher house to lend a hand to Susannah, Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno), and Conrad (Christopher Briney).
Belly, meanwhile, has struggled basically since the last summer ended. Her grades aren’t as good. She underperformed on her volleyball team. Of course, this all makes sense given what she’s gone through, but almost every single person on “The Summer I Turned Pretty” is phenomenally mean to Belly about it.
Take Belly’s guidance counselor. She notes that Belly’s grades have dropped, and Belly reveals that their family friend died. The guidance counselor cruelly notes that the drop has been year long, not just after the death. Somehow a trained guidance counselor wouldn’t know that a year of having a loved one slowly die of cancer would affect how someone would do in school for all 10 months.
But Belly’s own family aren’t any better at acknowledging her grief. When her mom questions her about her grades and Belly points out that they all had a long, hard year, Laurel tells her to stop making excuses. But grief is not an excuse — it’s the truth. Pretty much everyone in Belly’s life (besides her best friend Taylor, played by Rain Spencer) refuses to give her an inch of support and love.
Part of why everyone’s obliviousness (which veers into downright cruelty) hits so hard for me is because I’ve been through something similar to Belly. My 12-year-old cousin died at the beginning of my senior year of college. I tried to tell myself I was fine and it wasn’t affecting me, but I ended up dropping the ball in a lot of big areas of my life. It’s still hard for me to think back on that time without some shame about the people I let down. I’ve unfortunately lost other family members since, but in the intervening years, I’ve learned that being affected by a loved one’s illness and death is absolutely normal, and I wish I’d known to give myself space and grace.
Belly is not a perfect person, and she makes some questionable choices in season two. But that’s because she’s a teenage girl going through something terrible. Of course, Belly’s family is also grieving, but for her mom to treat her so callously was really shocking to me. I wish “The Summer I Turned Pretty” modeled what it means to care for and support a grieving person in these early episodes.
New episodes of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” debut Fridays on Prime Video.