When it comes to writing heartwarming stories of young love, lasting friendships, the perils of puberty, and hope after high school, Jenny Han knows just what to do to capture the attention and admiration of her young-adult readers. After the film adaptation release of one of her best-selling novels, Han is back in the spotlight with a fan base that just keeps growing and growing.
Han was born on September 3, 1980, in Richmond, Virginia, the elder of two daughters of Korean parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Raised in a Korean American community, Han grew up with fellow Asian kids and a deep appreciation for her Korean roots. In a 2011 interview, Han shared that she started writing when she was very young, penning children’s stories with not-so-typical themes. “There has never been a time when I wasn’t writing. When I was seven and eight, I wrote books about girls with leukemia or whose parents are getting divorced—stuff I knew nothing about . . . In middle school, I wrote a story about me and my friends 10 years into the future.”
Han attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she took a Writing for Children class and decided she wanted to keep writing fiction for young audiences. After graduating from UNC and taking on different jobs—from book seller and editorial assistant to Olive Garden server—Han applied for an MFA in creative writing at the New School University in New York and earned her degree in 2006.
Although Han wrote her first children’s book during graduate school, it wasn’t until 2006 that Shug was published upon the recommendation of Han’s workshop teacher. In Shug, a girl named Annamarie Wilcox—also known as “Shug”—deals with the struggles of being a 12-year-old and incoming junior high–schooler in a small Southern town, such as making new friends, understanding the complicated and tempestuous relationship between her parents, and figuring out these newfound feelings toward her childhood best friend, Mark.
With the publication of Shug, Han became more focused on her writing career. She followed up her debut work with a YA series set during summer vacation: The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009), It’s Not Summer Without You (2010), and We’ll Always Have Summer (2011). The “Belly” trilogy—so named after its heroine—centers on the life of Isabel “Belly” Conklin, a 16-year-old who cherishes her summer vacations at Cousin’s Beach and whose affection is rivaled for between two brothers, Jeremiah and Conrad Fisher. The Belly trilogy became an instant hit with teen readers, and all three books landed in the New York Times Bestseller list upon their respective releases.
After Han published another standalone children’s book titled Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream (2011)—her first written work featuring an Asian American protagonist—she collaborated with fellow YA writer Siobhan Vivian to form the Burn for Burn teen revenge trilogy, consisting of Burn for Burn (2012), Fire with Fire (2013), and Ashes to Ashes (2014). The series, pointedly darker than Han’s earlier works, is about three teenage girls, Kat, Lillia, and Mary, who seek revenge against their high-school enemies and soon underestimate the consequences of their actions. Like her previous trilogy, this one received positive attention and was even considered by Barry Josephson Entertainment for a TV series adaptation, although it would be Han’s next book series that would ultimately receive the on-screen treatment.
Very soon after the completion of the Burn for Burn series, Han published the first book of a new trilogy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2014), about a Korean American teenager named Lara Jean Covey, who writes secret letters to all her crushes throughout her life—secret, that is, until she finds out those letters were discovered and sent to the boys themselves. The novel was followed up by P.S. I Still Love You (2015) and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017)—the former winning the Young Adult Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—and the trilogy would become Han’s most popular YA series to date. A year later, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was adapted into a film of the same name, produced by Netflix and starring Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, and Israel Broussard, which received positive reviews and massive online attention. The rest of the series is rumored to be covered by Netflix for subsequent film adaptations.
Han still resides in Brooklyn, New York. Apart from writing YA fiction, she enjoys shopping in Koreatown in Manhattan and watching Korean dramas. She describes a typical writing day as “Wake up late, putter around, contemplate going to the gym, go to coffee shop to write instead,” and when asked to think about eight words to describe herself, she replied, “I might just be the luckiest girl ever.”
August is the month for us at 1-Hour Proofreading to celebrate young adult literature as well as several popular writers within this genre. For more special features on famous writers, novelists, poets, and so on, check out our Author Highlights series on the 1-Hour Proofreading blog!
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