'To All the Boys I've Loved Before' author Jenny Han's favorite book as a young adult will surprise you

Mary Cadden

Young adult literature is experiencing a renaissance. There are more intriguing voices and diversity in its pages than ever. In a new series, USA TODAY profiles five of the best-selling YA authors leading the charge to talk about the books, writers and moments that shaped them. 

For YA author Jenny Han, 40, whether reading or writing, books were a big part of her life. Most of Han's extracurricular activities in her childhood were spent at her local library. The bus would drop her off there every day after school, and hours later, her mom would pick her up.

"I kind of read the whole YA section," Han told USA TODAY. "I just gobbled up stories." 

Author Jenny Han

Han read everything and anything she could get her hands on. " I would read in the bathtub, the dinner table, the car. Whatever I had access to," Han says. "I loved the 'Baby-Sitters Club' books (by Ann M. Martin). I loved the 'Anastasia Krupnik' books (by Lois Lowry)," as well as "all the assorted venerated" children's authors.

More:'The Hate U Give' author Angie Thomas says this YA novel is why she writes books for 'people like me'

But the YA section of her youth was not as robust as the YA of today. The YA landscape would change dramatically in the late '90s and early 2000s when YA literature went through a seismic shift with blockbuster series like "Harry Potter," "Twilight" and "Hunger Games." And it has only continued to grow in the breadth of genre and diversity.

But well before Harry ever picked up a wand, Edward ever laid eyes on Bella or Katniss volunteered to stand in for her sister, Han was devouring books.

"You kind of went from 'Baby-Sitters Club' books to Stephen King," Han says. "There wasn't as much in the middle."

One of her favorites? "I was 10 years old and 'The Prince of Tides' was my favorite book," Han says. The extremely adult book, written by Pat Conroy, follows teacher and former football player Tom Wingo as he journeys to New York to aid in his sister's recovery from a suicide attempt.

Not a book one would expect to reach one so young.

"It is a dark book, you know ... but the way he writes ...  there's a real lyrical quality to his writings," Han says.

More:40 AAPI authors who made the USA TODAY bestseller list, including Jenny Han, Sanjay Gupta and Ali Wong

Han also loved the more age-appropriate books, like "Just as Long as We're Together" by Judy Blume. It was one of the few YA books Han read that had a young female Asian-American character in it.

"I related to the stuff that she was going through," Han says.

When it came to the books Han was drawn to, adult or YA, they all had one thing in common.

"I was so specific about what I liked, which is first-person," Han says. The first-person narrative allowed Han to put herself directly in another's shoes. And Han employs first-person narration in her own work; her USA TODAY best-selling series' "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" is told in first person, from the viewpoint of a young Asian American woman.

But growing up in suburban Virginia, a career in writing never occurred to Han: "I never saw any writers. I'd certainly didn't see any young writers or Asian-American female writers. So it never seemed like something within my reach." 

That all changed when she took a writing workshop in college. Han realized writing was something she could do as a career: "That was what inspired me to actually take the steps of becoming a writer."

Han chose to write children's and YA because "at that point, I was just out of my teens. .... So it really was the most natural thing to write about because I was still basically a teenager."

Author Jenny Han (right) and actress Lana Condor attend Netflix's premiere of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," the first of three films based on Han's series.

No longer a teen, it's still in YA that Han finds her passion for storytelling. She has written two YA series, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and "The Summer I Turned Pretty," two children's books and co-authored the YA "Burn for Burn" trilogy with Siobhan Vivian. Han was honored with the Young Adult 2015–2016 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. 

These days, Han is busy working on the film adaptations of her novels. Most recently, her "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" trilogy was featured on Netflix, with the first film premiering in 2018. Han is currently adapting "The Summer I Turned Pretty" books for Amazon.

First-look trailer:Netflix's 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever' completes an 'emotional' love story

Unfortunately for fans, there are no new books in Han's immediate future.

"I have found less time for prose, which I definitely miss," says the author. "I've been working on (films) for years. It is just a matter of being able to take that kind of meditative time to work on a book, which is a really different kind of mindset than TV."

But fans shouldn't worry; Han is not done yet. 

"It'll be interesting to go back to writing novels," she says. "So we'll just see what kind of habits I've made in TV writing, and how that goes with prose. I've been working on an adult novel off and on for a few years now – and a YA novel, too. I just need some uninterrupted time when I can work on them."