Her writing can be characterized as witty yet romantic, with one of the most realistic feminine voices around. Beyond descriptions of boys and first kisses, Han recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up: her characters deal with death, friendship, embarrassment, anxiety, and familial conflict, a realism that other novels for girls lack. Han’s characters are realistic girls: sometimes “unlikable” yet often outstandingly familiar.
There is something truly alluring about Jenny Han’s novels, and it is not Peter Kavinsky’s eyes or Conrad Fisher’s dark smirk. Do not get me wrong, the boys in her books make young readers swoon, but the love letter she seems to actually be writing is to teenage girls, a letter of representation and acknowledgment, of truth.
In popular culture, there is a lack of stories about girls “coming-of-age” and what that actually looks like. We are fed stories about young men facing their demons and losing their virginities, finding themselves in music or science or writing about manic pixie dream girls whilst drinking black coffee. More often than not, these stories feature young girls as background characters, stepping stones to the boy’s manhood. Further, the stories we do get about girls, like Lady Birdor The Edge of Seventeen are almost always about white girls and white girls only.
On 17 August, a film adaptation of her novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before comes out on Netflix, and features three Asian-American actresses in the lead roles as the Song-Sisters. When she announced the film adaptation, Han noted that this was the first film she remembers seeing with three Asian-American female leads since The Joy Luck Club, which came out nearly a quarter of a century ago. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before represents a win for the community and a new standard to which Hollywood must adhere. It is time more people saw themselves on screen.
Despite Han being extremely outspoken on Twitter about the lack of representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, her film is being met with backlash because there are no Asian men. Supporters of Han’s books have spoken up about this criticism, stressing the importance of letting Asian-American girls enjoy this representation and allowing them to see themselves in heroine Lara-Jean. At the end of the day, many view To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as a major step in the right direction.
Jenny Han writes romantic, lovely, delicious books that are easy to enjoy and hard to forget. Beyond the enchanting storylines, though, Han is writing important, truthful work for all girls. With each new novel, she writes another love letter to the young girls of the world reminding them that they are seen, a letter we so desperately need.
Emma Ragusa is a Copy Editor for The Rational Creature.