It’s not Pace without you: a Q&A with Jenny Han and Christopher Briney


Photo: Natalia Marenco

Stefanie Giacoumopoulos, Staff Writer

Jenny Han, acclaimed author and executive producer of the “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy and co-showrunner and author of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” trilogy, visited the University last week, along with 2020 University alumni Christopher Briney, who stars in the Prime Video adaptation of the latter book series.

Han has been writing her whole life and began publishing her work in 2006 with her children’s novel “Shug.” In 2009, she began publishing “The Summer I Turned Pretty” trilogy, which was soon followed by the “To All The Boys” trilogy in 2014. In 2018, the first of three “To All The Boys” movies was released on Netflix, then in June 2022, the “The Summer I Turned Pretty” television series was released on Amazon Prime.

Briney, who plays Conrad Fisher in “The Summer I Turned Pretty” Amazon series, graduated from the University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Film, TV, Voiceover and Commercial. “The Summer I Turned Pretty” is his television acting debut.

“The Summer I Turned Pretty” series is divided into three books and revolves around Isabel “Belly” Conklin and the summers she spends at a cousin’s beach house with her mom, her older brother, her mom’s best friend and her mom’s best friend’s two sons. The main storyline is centered around Belly’s relationship with both sons, as it wavers between platonic and romantic, as well as growing up with divorced parents and the complications within mother-daughter relationships. 

The casting process took a few months, but Han said that selecting Briney to play Conrad was the easiest choice out of all the characters. She explains she clearly remembers watching his audition tape and immediately deciding to cast him. “It was not even a question to me, it felt really right.”

On the other hand, Briney recalled recording his audition tape with his roommate Trevor and being incredibly surprised to get a call from Han, “It was probably my 80th audition with nothing booked. So you just tape it and let it go and try your best. Then two weeks later I got a Zoom meeting with Jenny. Then we did a chemistry read, then another chemistry read and then I found out I booked it.”

Fans of Han jumped for joy when they discovered the trilogy would be turned into a series. Although certain parts of the story were changed for the show, Han doesn’t look at it like that. Instead, she thinks of it as enhancing what’s already there. “I do try to ask people to wait to actually see something before you judge something. Because people were like, ‘why is there a Deb ball? That wasn’t in the books.’ People were mad about that until they saw it and said, ‘I liked that.’ So you have to give things a chance.” 

Because the story was being adapted to a new medium, it allowed her to expand and enhance the story more to focus on other characters such as Belly’s best friend, Taylor, her brother Steven, her mom Laurel and her best friend Susannah. Han explained that the book series mostly takes place from Belly’s point of view and occasionally switches to Conrad’s and Jeremiah’s in the later books. 

One of the main reasons the television adaptation was so loved by fans is because of its soundtrack. Han listened to Taylor Swift’s album “Fearless” while writing the series, so Swift’s music became an essential part of her writing process. When choosing the soundtrack, Han already had in mind exactly what songs to use for which scenes of the show. “For the final moments at the ball, I knew I wanted ‘The Way I Loved You,’” Han stated.

“When I was pitching it, I was describing what was going to happen and when the music would start. I wanted them to picture it exactly my way so they would be willing to spend the money on it.” Because there’s such a huge overlap between fans of Swift and fans of Han, she thought the best gift she could give the fans was placing one of Swift’s songs into the show.

Han and Briney also provided guidance to students who were interested in writing and acting. “I think my advice for writing would be to really work on honing your voice,” Han said. “There’s no brand-new story. There have been so many stories told. But what’s new and specific and unique is the way you look at the world.”

Briney explained that he felt incredibly lucky to be doing what he does and that it still feels like a dream sometimes. He told the audience to keep working hard, and that acting is something you really have to stick with to be successful.

The Q&A session came to a close with a rapid-fire question round, in which Briney said his favorite book in the trilogy is “It’s Not Summer Without You” and his favorite place to eat at in the city is TJ’s. He also expressed how badly he wished to be Danny Phantom if he could choose to be in any television show or movie. 

For Han, she considered the entire series to be more of a continuous flow of one book instead of separate individual books and couldn’t think of just one restaurant to choose from. Rather than picking a movie or show to be in, she instead teased that she is working on a new project right now. Time was dedicated toward commentary from fans in the audience, in which many of them expressed their gratitude and appreciation toward Han for writing such an impactful and moving book series throughout her career as an author, and thanked her for bringing so much representation to not only the book world but to the screen as well. 

Han and Briney were sent off with a huge round of applause and many thanks from fans in the crowd. To keep up with Han and Briney’s work, you can find them both on Instagram @jennyhan and @chrisbriney_.

You can watch the first season of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” now on Amazon Prime and catch the next season, which is set to release in 2023. Follow the show’s Instagram page to keep up with the release date @thesummeriturnedpretty. All of Han’s books can be found online or at any book retail store.