Former children’s bookseller and children’s librarian turned bestselling author Jenny Han is the author of Shug and numerous young adult titles. Her forthcoming novel, Always and Forever, Lara Jean, completes a trilogy that began in 2014 with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. In this final installment, college-bound Lara Jean must decide where she wants to go to college and what her choice will mean for her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter. Han spoke with PW about writing this unplanned follow-up to P.S. I Still Love You, the importance of detail in grounding the story, and the challenging shift that Lara Jean and Peter experience in this final chapter.
How did you come to writing for children?
I came to it very intentionally—I started my first book, Shug, when I was in college, and from there, I went on to get my MFA in Writing for Children at the New School.
You’ve written one book for middle grade readers, but have mostly published young adult titles. What draws you to writing for teens?
I think that teenaged life is so fertile. It’s a time of firsts, and the first time is almost always the most interesting time, to me, anyway!
Do you approach writing for a middle grade audience differently from writing for a young adult audience?
Not at all, and I don’t think I would approach writing for adults any differently either. I just write the story as it comes to me, and my main objective is always to tell the truth.
Your published titles have all been realistic fiction. Are you interested in potentially exploring other genres?
Absolutely. I’ve been working on something different for years now; I just don’t know what it is yet. I have to unlock it still, but it isn’t contemporary and it isn’t quite realistic either. It’s still all the same things that I love to write about though—feasts, and finery, and first love!
What is your relationship with your editor like? Have you had the same editor over your entire career?
I adore my editor, Zareen Jaffery. Zareen is particularly good at asking questions, and probing, and then letting me come to answers my own way. She’s a sensitive, smart, truth-telling kind of person, and those are the kinds of qualities that make for a good editor. My first editor was Emily Meehan, who moved over to Hyperion years ago. Emily is still a cherished friend of mine. We were both young and at the beginnings of our careers when we started working together, but it’s been lovely to track where she is and see all the amazing things she’s been up to.
How long did it take to write Always and Forever, Lara Jean in comparison to the first two books?
It took a year. To All the Boys, I’d been working on off and on for years—I think I first had the idea maybe five or six years ago, and I would work on it in between the Burn for Burn trilogy I co-wrote with Siobhan Vivian. I had the least amount of time to work on P.S. I Still Love You, because it was a sequel and it came out a year after the first book.
You did not originally plan for Lara Jean’s story to span three books; in fact, the third book was a happy surprise for many readers. Why did you decide to write a third installment? Are you certain this is the end to her story?
I did only intend to write two books. I’ve always thought of the first two books as two halves of a heart, but, when I was starting my next book, I kept thinking about Lara Jean and what would happen next. There were things that couldn’t fit in P.S. I Still Love You that could be explored in a third book.
Ultimately, I want readers to feel satisfied with the trilogy as a whole. I think of Always and Forever, Lara Jean as dessert. I want it to be enjoyable.
How does it feel to be leaving Lara Jean behind after telling her story for so many years?
This time around, it doesn’t feel too sad, because I thought I was saying good bye two years ago. This just feels like a bonus.
Has knowing that this will be the final book affected your writing process or approach to this novel?
It always feels difficult to finish a trilogy because you’re working with a time constraint. I prefer not to have a deadline, but for Always and Forever, Lara Jean, we had to make room in the schedule because it was unplanned.
I actually worked on the book without letting anyone know, not even my editor, until I was certain there was a story to tell. I loved being able to come full circle with Lara Jean, arriving at a place where she was experiencing the changes and choices Margot did in the first book.
Did you grow up in Virginia? Did that shape your writing of Lara Jean’s story? What other aspects of Lara Jean and her story are autobiographical?
I did grow up in Virginia, and I have a sister, and we’re very close. My sister is my very favorite person, and I dedicated To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to her.
Did you conduct any research while writing Always and Forever, Lara Jean?
Yes. I wanted Lara Jean and Peter’s transition to college to feel very realistic. I visited the University of Virginia campus and spoke to a lacrosse player to better understand Peter’s experience. It doesn’t feel realistic when every character goes to Harvard or Brown, especially when there are often so many excellent state schools to consider. I wanted to be truthful to that experience.
In the previous books, the central romantic relationship between Lara Jean and Peter was primarily challenged by other potential partners. In this third book, things have shifted. Can you speak about this shift?
In many ways, I think Lara Jean and Peter face a bigger challenge in Always and Forever, Lara Jean. When two people love each other but are challenged by life and circumstances, rather than other people, that’s a harder pill to swallow. Every choice leads you somewhere, but it might not be where you truly want to be if the decision is based on someone else. It could lead to regrets and what ifs, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t still have valuable experiences.
Descriptions of food, crafts, and fashion, especially Lara Jean’s creations, are always a highlight in your novels. Who or what inspires these elements?
I really love to write about food, crafts, and fashion, so those details will always be a part of my books. I think they inject stories with color and flavor, providing a tactile experience. Food is a way to explore culture and ground the story in a specific time and place. I still remember the meals and snacks from my first novel, Shug: pork chops and applesauce and Coca-Cola and peanuts, which are very Southern. When a character has roots elsewhere, food is a way to connect with home and another culture.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
Not yet. I am working on something, but I haven’t unlocked it yet. Now that Always and Forever, Lara Jean is done, I can really start thinking about it.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 May 2 ISBN 978-1-481-43048-7