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The Summer I Turned Pretty: Jenny Han Addresses Shayla's Season 2 Absence

"The Summer I Turned Pretty" Season 2 is finally here. The teen drama's sophomore season made its long-awaited debut on Amazon Prime in mid-July, just a little over a year after its first premiered in June 2022. While viewers won't know how well the show's second season stacks up to its first until its finale has aired in August, either, it seems safe to say that "The Summer I Turned Pretty" has returned in fittingly messier fashion and with even more Taylor Swift songs than before.

Unfortunately, while the series' second season continues the story of Isabel "Belly" Conklin (Lola Tung), not every fan-favorite character from "The Summer I Turned Pretty" Season 1 has returned for its new batch of episodes. Key among the season's missing faces is Shayla Wang (Minnie Mills), the fashion-obsessed debutante whom viewers last saw enjoying a romantic night together with her boyfriend, Steven (Sean Kaufman).

Back in April, Mills confirmed on Instagram that she wasn't reprising her role as Shayla for "The Summer I Turned Pretty" Season 2, and it didn't seem like a decision she herself had made. Sure enough, in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, show creator Jenny Han confirmed that there just wasn't enough room for Shayla in the new season's story.

"There are a lot of characters from Season 1 that we really wish we could have seen more of this season, but the challenge of Season 2 is the tight timeline, which is just over a week," Han explained. "It's a story that's about Belly's grief and her journey to forgiving herself, and every other story in the show has to radiate out from that."

The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2 is about learning that 'nothing lasts forever'

Not only is Shayla totally absent from the first three episodes of "The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2," but it's also revealed that she and Steven have broken up in the time since viewers last saw them together. For some fans, that twist may feel a little bit too much like the show pouring salt on an already open wound. However, it's worth noting that Steven and Shayla aren't the only "Summer I Turned Pretty" couple who are revealed to have split up at the start of the series' second season. Belly and Conrad (Christopher Briney) have also broken up, as have Laurel (Jackie Chung) and Cleveland (Alfredo Narciso).

According to Jenny Han, who also wrote the books that "The Summer I Turned Pretty" is based on, the show's unexpected breakups are all meant to separate its sun-dappled, romantic first season from its comparatively darker second. "Season 1 is about the dream and the fantasy of summer love, and then Season 2 is learning that nothing lasts forever, not summer romance and sadly not life either," Han revealed to Entertainment Weekly. "It's a really hard lesson, and it's where Belly and all of our characters are having to grow up."

Its thematic relevance likely won't make Shayla and Steven's breakup any easier for fans to accept, and the same can be said for the former's surprising absence. For her part, Han says she thinks viewers' passionate responses to the character's off-screen departure are a testament to the impact she and Mills made with Shayla.

"For me, as the creator of a character, it's always really wonderful to see any of the characters being so warmly embraced," Han confessed. "It's really an honor for fans to care about the characters so deeply."