The A Plus Interview

Jenny Han On Why 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' Is The Rom-Com We All Need Right Now

"No one story is going to represent everybody — including mine."

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Visit on the last Thursday of each month for the latest installment.

The same week Crazy Rich Asians hit theaters, Netflix subscribers also got the chance to experience To All the Boys I've Loved Before, a rom-com based on the bestselling novel of the same name from Jenny Han. This, along with the John Cho-starring Searching, has made August 2018 a monumental month for Asian and Asian-American representation in media.

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To All the Boys I've Loved Before follows a high schooler named Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor), whose love life takes quite the turn when five letters she wrote to her five crushes are sent out in the mail. The hunky co-star that has basically become America's (dream) boyfriend? Noah Centineo (who plays Peter Kavinsky). Han wrote the novel back in 2014 and it is the first in a series centered on Lara Jean, with 2015's P.S. I Still Love You and 2017's Always and Forever, Lara Jean completing the trilogy.

A Plus caught up with Han — who lists Judy Bloom, Stephen King, and a slew of Southern writers as influences — to discuss all things To All the Boys I've Loved Before. During our chat, we spoke to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alum about the story's journey from page to screen, diversity in literature as well as in film/TV, and the future of the YA genre.

jenny han author to all the boys i've loved before
Photo Credit: Adam Krause

A PLUS: How was the journey to getting the book published and getting the movie made? Did you face any major challenges given the fact that it features a non-White lead?

JENNY HAN: With the book, I fought to have an Asian girl be on the cover — not as an illustration, but for it to be photographic because that's something I had rarely ever seen before in literature. I really wanted this character to be a classic young adult heroine and I wanted girls to relate to her the way I related to books as a kid. It was really important to me for Asian-American girls to walk into the bookstore to have the experience of seeing someone who looked like them be centered, to be the main character, and not be the sidekick.

As for the movie, there had been interest early on but the reason why it was a long road was because people were no longer interested when they realized she had to be Asian. That, for me, was a real sticking point and I said it was a position I wasn't willing to budge on. I had to make that really clear from the beginning, that I couldn't partner with somebody who didn't have that same vision.

Did you have any say in casting Lana as Lara Jean? If so, what about her made you think she was the perfect actress for the part?

I was really happy [with the casting] because I actually had my eye on her before when she played Jubilee [in X-Men: Apocalypse]. Lana had a picture of herself on Instagram where she was at a soda fountain and the colors were all pastel and sherbet. It really felt like Lara Jean to me so I made a mental note of it. I even re-posted it on my Instagram. I had mentioned her to the producers early on and was really happy they ended up getting her as the lead. Lana is really super energetic and spirited and a really bubbly kind of personality. Lara Jean, in her own way, is that way with the people close to her, like her family.

While we're talking about representation, I'd be remiss not to bring up the success of "Crazy Rich Asians." I was thinking about how "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before" is different because it gives us the experience of a younger Asian-American girl — something we haven't really seen before.

You're exactly right. There have just been so few opportunities for Asian-Americans in TV and film — and there are even fewer that have had the ability to make careers from it. I hope more Asians from various backgrounds will have more opportunities open up for them. No one story is going to represent everybody, including mine. I hope we keep getting cracks at bat because there are a lot more stories to tell. I have more stories to tell, but so do some of the other people I want to uplift and support.

Do you, as an Asian-American author, ever feel the pressure of having to write about that perspective?

We sometimes put undue pressure on stories told by people of color and also stories that feature people of color. I hope we can get to a point where it's not such a rarity to see a person of color be the hero of the story so it can just be a story and not have to carry all that weight on its shoulders.

Yeah, I've thought the pressure put on projects like "Wonder Woman" and "Black Panther" to succeed has been unfair. It's the same thing that is happening with "Crazy Rich Asians."

Yeah, because then it has to be not just good but it has to be better than the average romantic comedy — and that's a lot of pressure.

Exactly. I was also wondering if you relate to Lara Jean in any way. Did you put part of yourself in that character?

There's a piece of me in all my characters — usually the most annoying ones have the most pieces of me. With Lara Jean, she is very close to her family. I am as well. Also, she also writes down her feelings, loves fashion, and likes to bake. I definitely put a lot of me into the character for sure.

We're getting so much rich YA content these days, with books as well as when those books are turned into movies. What do you hope is next for YA as a genre?

I hope people just continue to expand it. YA does a pretty good job of representation. Part of the reason why is we, as authors, spend a lot of time meeting kids around the country, talking to our readers. We see the need is there and we want to fulfill those needs.

Is it just me or does YA get dismissed as a genre because it is aimed at young readers? What would you tell people who think this?

Well, if they read it then they would see. I mean, just for me, there's no greater privilege than writing for young people because even when you ask an adult what the most important book to them is, the book that really shaped them, it's usually a book [they read when they were younger]. To be able to have a role in a young person's life where someone tells you that you were the first book they ever read or you're the book that made them want to be a reader, it's a really huge honor. To me, that's something I wouldn't ever want to give up because you really get to experience the world with them in a way.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is streaming now on Netflix.

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