The book cover of "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" by Jenny Han, left, and an illustration of Jenny Han, right. (Photo illustration by Anya Thakur)
Liberty High School

Jenny Han on redefining the archetype of the ‘All American Girl’ and diversity in literature

Author Jenny Han is redefining the archetype of the “All American Girl” and bringing diversity and representation to mainstream film and literature. As Asian American stories are being shared onscreen, a generation’s search to find their tribe and identity is realized.

The romantic cursive swoops and wistful sighs that accompany the act of writing a love letter evoke cloying and cliched images of a girl safe in the confines of her diary, limbs arranged comfortably as she sprawls across her bed and light pours in from her bedroom window.

But that image is far removed from static or predictable now, with author Jenny Han and actress Lana Condor injecting life and bold twists into the scene in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” a novel by Han, centering on a girl writing letters to her past loves intended to be private but which end up being sent. Han’s novel has recently been adapted into a Netflix film starring Condor as the protagonist.

With the lead cast as an Asian American actress, as Han imagined the character in her writings, she subverts stereotypes and provides representation and a voice to Asians, Asian Americans and underrepresented minorities everywhere. They have a tangible face to see themselves reflected in, a story that shows them not as stock characters but as fully-fleshed ones starring in their own show, writing their own destiny and defining their identity.

The opportunity to truly identify with a character and believe that they are visible and in all the possibilities imaginable empowers a generation to dream and to accept themselves and their unique heritage and culture.

Strong leads and heroines like Kim Possible, red hair whipping behind her and black turtlenecks over utility-belted cargo pants, fingerless gloves on her balled hands as she flies through the air, champion duality and show girls that they are powerful.

Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra, who portrays the confident and commanding FBI agent Alex Parrish as she represents Asians and breaks stereotypes, bringing diversity to a quintessentially American drama.

And now Jenny Han shows Asian American identity as something worth celebrating and showcasing on-screen, combatting erasure and misrepresentation or underrepresentation.

Han shared her story in an interview with Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV.

Q: Why did you want to create this story?

A: I think I was thinking a lot about all the heroines I read when I was a kid. And you know, they were very bright-spirited, kind of like optimistic young women that I really loved. And like they’re still so loved to me. But I never read one that was like Asian American so I was really excited to take these kind of classical characters and make the hero, you know, an Asian American and give that opportunity to other young women.

Q: This is a very inclusive story of a very diverse cast. I think that’s so important especially for young girls watching it. And to have people identify, wonderful thing. 

A: I hope people fall in love with it. I think that the original fans were happy and I think people who’ve never read the books will be happy. I hope because it really is a really heartwarming story about family and valuing love but also really being true to yourself.

Q: It definitely is beyond just about teenagers. [During a] press screening I was at, people were so happy after the movie and talking about it and excited. And [it was outside] the natural demographic you would think would gravitate towards it. So it’s definitely a fuel.

A: I think that there has been such a lack of romantic comedies. But I remember when I was in high school, all the guy friends loved, like I remember when one guy friend watched “Titanic” like three times in the theater, he really needed Notting Hill and all that stuff. And I think that there is a preconception that maybe guys aren’t as into it. But I think now that it’s on Netflix, it’s a little bit like of an ease of entry into that where it’s like, you know, you’re at home and why not check it out?

A: I love it. I can’t wait for the audience to see it and I hope they make more of them because I know there’s three books, so I I hope there’s a two and three. I’m rooting for it. Thank you so much Jenny for creating this book. I mean, thank you, thank you!