Literature for young adults is experiencing a renaissance. There are more intriguing voices and diversity in its pages than ever before. In a new series, USA TODAY features five of the best-selling YA authors who lead the charge in talking about the books, writers, and the moments that shaped them.
For author YA Jenny Han, 40, whom she read or wrote, books were a big part of her life. Most of Han’s extracurricular activities as a child were spent at his local library. The bus dropped her there every day after school and a few hours later her mother would pick her up. âI kind of read the whole YA section,â Han told USA TODAY. “I just swallowed stories.”
Han read anything and everything she could get her hands on. âI was reading in the tub, the dinner table, the car. Everything I had access to,â Han said. “I loved the ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ books [by Ann M. Martin.] I loved the ‘Anastasia Krupnik’ books, [by Lois Lowry]”as well as” all assorted revered children’s authors “.
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But the YA section of its youth was not as robust as the YA is today. The YA landscape would change dramatically in the late 90s and early 2000s when YA literature underwent a seismic change with hit shows like “Harry Potter”, “Twilight” and “Hunger Games”. And it has continued to grow in the breadth of genres and diversity.
But long before Harry picked up a wand, Edward ever laid eyes on Bella, or Katniss volunteered to replace her sister, Han was devouring books. âI think you kind of went from the ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ books to Stephen King. There weren’t that many in the middle,â Han reflected.
One of his favorites? âI think I was 10 years old and ‘The Prince of the Tides’ was my favorite book,â Han admitted. The extremely grown-up book, written by Pat Conroy, follows teacher and former football player Tom Wingo as he travels to New York City to help his sister recover from a suicide attempt. Not a book would expect to reach such a young person. “It’s a dark book you know … but the way he writes … there is a real lyrical quality in his writing”
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Han also liked books more suited to his age, like âJust as Long as We’re Togetherâ by Judy Blume. It was one of the few YA books Han read that contained a young female character of Asian-American descent. “I related to the things she was going through.”
When it came to the books Han was drawn to, adult or young, they all had one thing in common. âI was so specific about what I liked, which was first person,â Han says. The first-person narrative allowed Han to put himself directly in someone else’s shoes. And Han employs the first person in his own work, his hit USA TODAY series “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is told in first person, from the perspective of a young Asian American woman. .
But growing up in suburban Virginia, a career in writing never came to Han. “I never saw writers. I certainly hadn’t seen young Asian-American writers or female writers. So it never seemed like something within my reach.”
Everything changed when she took a writing workshop at the university. Han realized that writing was something she could do for a career. “I think that’s what inspired me to take the steps to become a writer.” She chose to write Children’s and YA because “at that point I was just coming out of my teenage years … So it really was the most natural thing to write because I was still basically a teenager.”
No longer a teenager, it is still in YA that Han finds his passion for storytelling. She wrote two YA series, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty”, two children’s books and co-wrote the YA trilogy “Burn for Burn” with Siobhan Vivian. Han received the Young Adult 2015-2016 Asian / Pacific American Award for Literature.
These days, Han is busy working on film adaptations of her novels. Most recently, his âTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Beforeâ trilogy premiered on Netflix, with the first film premiering in 2018. Han is currently adapting the âSummer I Got Prettyâ books for Amazon.
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Unfortunately for fans, there are no new books in Han’s immediate future. “I found less time for prose, which I definitely miss,” said the author. ” I worked on [films] for years. It’s just a matter of being able to take that kind of meditative time to work on a book, which is a very different mindset from television. “
But fans shouldn’t worry, Han is not done yet. âI think it will be interesting to go back to writing novels,â Han says. âSo we’ll just see what kind of habits I’ve picked up in TV writing and how it’s done with prose,â says Han. “I’ve been working on an adult novel on and off for a few years now – and on a teenage novel too. I just need a little uninterrupted time to be able to work on it.”