By Simran Gupta
On July 21st, Korean-American, contemporary young adult author Jenny Han announced through Instagram that her beloved YA novel, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is being turned into a film.
“I’m over the moon,” she shared with her fans, in a screenshot. “I haven’t seen Asian American women centered on the screen since ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ which was nearly 25 years ago. Representation is so important, and this means the world to me. More than anything, I hope that this leads to more opportunities for Asian American writers and actors down the line. I love you all infinitely.”
As someone who grew into young adulthood with Han’s “Lara Jean” trilogy, I too was over the moon that the first book is going to be adapted for the big screen. I remember reading all three and almost sobbing over how much I related to Lara Jean and her two sisters in every way.
When Han published the first novel, there was little to no non-white representation in young adult literature. I had read only one other book centering a young woman of color, a character I could see myself in and connect to in a way I desperately needed in my later teens.
In “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” Lara Jean Song Covey is a sixteen-year-old Korean-American teenager. She deals with the same teenage problems that any of us do: first love, old crushes, school, mean kids, etc. She and her two sisters, Margot and Kitty, are still mourning the loss of their mother (and main link to their Korean heritage), from whom they received their middle name “Song.” However, she does things that are unique to a non-white protagonist; in Lara Jean’s case, she keeps in touch with her Korean heritage through food and television shows. She and her sisters refer to each other as the “Song girls,” a nod to their mother and their Korean roots.
Their father also encourages them and does his best to further their connection to Korea; later in the trilogy, the Song girls have the opportunity to take a long term trip to Korea to connect with their family, learn Korean, and drink in the history and culture they may not have experienced growing up in the U.S.
On a larger scale, the Song girls collectively destroy any negative, blanket stereotype concerning Asian-American youth. Lara Jean’s internal monologue and her relationship with her sisters addresses feminism, slut shaming, peer pressure, the model minority myth, the concept of filial duty, tradition, and so much more.
Through her characters, Han discusses the growing sexuality of high school students, nasty rumors, etc. Seeing this tackled through a more multicultural lens as the novels were released through my young adulthood did wonders for my self-image and confidence; I cannot imagine the amount of young Korean American girls who had someone they could relate to and in whom they could see a reflection of themselves.
It means a lot for children and young adults to be able to see themselves reflected in books and movies, which is why it’s amazing that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is going to be a movie. Lana Condor will play Lara Jean, and Noah Centineo (whom people may recognize from the TV show “The Fosters”) will play our favorite Peter K.
We will watch as Kitty, in a fit of anger, sends out Lara Jean’s private love letters to all of her crushes and watch as she is forced to confront old ghosts and feelings.
We’ll fall for Peter K along with her; we’ll laugh and cry and miss Margot, the big sister everyone wishes they had. We’ll do it all with a fresh baked batch of chocolate chip cookies—just like Lara Jean would.