During a BookCon panel on June 2, Jenny Han, author of the YA fan favorite To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (S&S, 2014), adapted by Netflix in 2018, was interviewed by Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a recent children’s book author. The friends discussed their books, the films (both released and upcoming) based on Han’s novels, and their shared love of young adult literature.
When asked about her entry into writing, Han spoke of keeping a journal and writing fanfiction about herself and her friends as an adolescent, but said she had never met another young Asian American who was writing. It was her parents who believed in her talent and said she’d “make it.” Chen expressed surprise, explaining that, in the Asian-American culture, “careers in the arts are sometimes frowned upon.” Han explained that, while her parents are protective, they’ve also been supportive.
Han and Chen told the audience about the start of their friendship, when Han gave Chen publishing advice leading up to the release of her first picture book, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes (Feiwel and Friends, 2018), during the anxious period before the book’s release. Han recalls that she felt Chen “really wanted to be in the community.”
Chen said that, though she works full-time for Instagram, she’s “always been a book person,” saying, “People put so much effort into books. It’s an art.” Jokingly criticizing the categorization of YA, Chen said, “I don’t know why they call it young adult. I’m in my 30s and all I read is YA.”
Chen shared that, last year at BookCon, she met Leigh Bardugo and said that she started “shaking” and “one tear” rolled down her cheek. And, this year, when she met Sarah J. Maas during BookExpo, she was a complete “fangirl,” asking Maas for a Post-it note with her email address written on it. “I only geek over authors and Oprah,” Chen assured the crowd, then launched into two stories about meeting Oprah.
When asked who her “Oprah” was, Han exclaimed: “Oprah! Oprah raised me,” but also shared that Stephen King is someone she greatly admires. “Every writer should read his book On Writing,” she urged, explaining that he is exceptional at tapping into childhood, which is why “so many young readers read him before there was YA.”
When asked about her novel Always and Forever, Lara Jean, an unplanned third novel following the characters from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and determining when to close the chapter on the series, Han said, “I was done. But then I was having trouble finding comfort, and characters are like old friends. I needed that feeling again.”
Han and Chen then took questions from the audience. Speaking about the experience of seeing her characters on screen, Han admitted that it was “surreal. An option isn’t uncommon, but it’s rare for a movie to get made. Of all my books, this one felt the most possible [as an adaptation], but I didn’t fully believe it until full production.”
Both authors responded to a question about what they’ve discovered about themselves during the writing process. “You learn something different with every book,” Han said. She spoke of writing To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before when she felt unmoored as her sister was getting married. “No matter your age, your family will change. That’s scary, but there’s also joy. I hope readers feel some measure of comfort reading my books.” She also shared that the second book in her trilogy, P.S. I Still Love You, is dedicated to her nephew, a joyous part of familial change.
Answering a question about love triangles, Jenny expressed her love for them, while Chen agreed, saying she liked “love squares and rhombuses, too.” Han said, “It’s excruciating and delicious. As a storyteller, I love making things difficult.”
The panelists also spoke about the importance of representation and boys being exposed to strong girls and women in literature. “I want to see more and different stories,” Han said, “because I can only tell the stories I know.”
The panel ended with a video message from the cast of the upcoming Netflix adaptation of P.S. I Still Love You, featuring Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, and Jordan Fisher, for which the crowd enthusiastically cheered.