To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before author Jenny Han on watching her book become a phenomenon

There was a wall of Post-Its at this year’s BookCon, the fan convention for readers. On that wall, publishers were asking readers to share the titles of books that have changed their lives. And one reader felt so strongly about their title of choice that they used seven Post-Its to write its title in firm, emphatic capital letters: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the kind of book that people feel that strongly about. Since it came out in 2014, the YA novel and its two sequels — 2015’s P.S. I Still Love You and 2017’s Always and Forever, Lara Jean — have become massive best-sellers. And when To All the Boys was adapted into a movie that launched on Netflix last summer, it swiftly became a bona fide cultural phenomenon. It was one of Netflix’s most-watched and rewatched movies. It spawned multiple think pieces about its “radical softness.” It became ubiquitous.

But before the movie there was the book, and before the book there was Jenny Han. Han was a best-selling author of YA romance long before To All the Boys became a smash hit; she writes books of immense warmth and sweetness, so that reading them feels as soothing as sinking down into a hot bath.

And during BookCon, just a few hundred yards away from that emphatic Post-It note wall, I sat down with Han to talk about To All the Boys, the joys of classic YA, and how it feels to create an Asian American icon. Our conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

Constance Grady

One of the things I think is so compelling about your writing is that it’s so atmosphere-driven. There’s all of the fun wacky plot hijinks and the romance, but when I think about your books I’m thinking about these really warm tender moments like the Christmas Cookie Bonanza in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or the RAF party in P.S. I Still Love You. So when you’re writing, how do you find your way to those moments? Do you plan them or do they just sort of creep in?

Jenny Han

Well, I don’t ever plan anything in my books. Since I don’t outline, I tend to just go wherever my imagination leads me and where I feel excited to write about. I tend to write scenes that I would want to read.

Constance Grady

It’s a very classic approach. It reminds me of really beautiful old YA like Little Women or Betsy-Tacy or I Capture the Castle. Were any of those books in your mind when you were writing?

Jenny Han

Definitely Little Women. I thought about that book a lot, because [when I was writing To All the Boys] I wanted to write a story that felt like you were around the hearth, that felt really warm and cozy at the end, that gave you that feeling that those books used to give me.

Little Women in particular is about sisters. It’s about loss of a parent.

Writers always say, “I’m a Jo.” No one ever says, “I’m a Beth.” Beth always seemed boring to me, so I was thinking, “What is that kind of character? What is her inner world about?” Because she’s someone who loves home and doesn’t really have any desire to see the world or be an adventuress, and that’s what I was thinking about when I started that book.

Constance Grady

I love that. I was just talking with a friend about Little Women and she kept saying, “No one ever identifies as a Beth,” and I was like —

Jenny Han

Do you?

Constance Grady

Well, I just wanted to sit inside and read at that age, I didn’t want to go out and have adventures falling through the ice and stuff. That changed a little as I grew up, but when I hear you say that I’m like, “Yes, finally, Beth representation!”


Seven blue Post-Its name “To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before” a book that changed the Post-It-writer’s life.

A BookCon attendant is extremely enthusiastic about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
Constance Grady / Vox

What was it like to see it getting adapted into the movie? How involved were you in that process?

Jenny Han

On the first movie I consulted on the script and I consulted on costumes, and I gave notes once the cut was done. On the second movie, I was definitely more involved. I was involved during pre-production and I was on set during filming.

Constance Grady

Is there anything you can tease from the second movie?

Jenny Han

I can say that what was super fun to me was to introduce new characters into the world that we didn’t see in the first movie, and then see them brought to life in the second movie. It was really fun thinking about who would play these women. Like Stormy, who is the older woman that Lara Jean becomes very close to at the retirement home [where she volunteers], and Trina, who is a neighbor.

It was just fun to think about who could play these parts and really dream about that. Lately I’ve met so many amazing women who are actors who have had really long and great careers, and it was really fun putting them in the mix with young actors who are just starting out.

Constance Grady

The books were obviously huge best-sellers, but once the movie came out it really became omnipresent for awhile. What was it like for you to watch it take over the internet?

Jenny Han

It was definitely overwhelming and surprising. Going into it, I was just hoping that the fans of the book would feel happy and that it brought the story to life in a way that satisfied them. It was really gratifying to see so many people embrace it who were being introduced to it for the first time.

Constance Grady

What do you think it was that made the movie take off at that particular moment?

Jenny Han

The movie has some differences from the book, but I think that what the movie was successful at was what I hoped to do with the book, which was to make people feel really warm and cozy when they watched it. That, to me, is more important, that feeling when you walk away with when you watch a movie, than the literal one-to-one adaptation.

Constance Grady

What does it mean to you to see this Asian American heroine become iconic?

Jenny Han

At Halloween there were so many young women who dressed up as Lara Jean, and it really did make me cry. Just to see people really own the moment and own the character and wear the costumes with pride and feel like, “This is my moment, this is my thing.” That was really cool to me.

In terms of pop culture, there aren’t many Asian women you can dress up as for Halloween. There’s only a few, really, and I think I’ve dressed up as them all. Like Cho Chang from Harry Potter or Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill. Just a couple! So it was cool to see this character I created enter into that.

Constance Grady

So what are you working on now? What’s your next project?

Jenny Han

I am working on a bunch of different things, none of which I can discuss at the moment. It’s been so busy, because we only wrapped the [new] movie a month ago and I’ve hardly had a chance to take a breath. Now I’m getting back into writing, which is home base for me. So that’s it’s own comfort.