In case you were unsure, that’s Jenny Han as in “Han Solo,” not Han as in “hand.” Befitting of the bestselling young adult author that she is, she can recite all the dialogue from the cult film Clueless, and she gladly admits her adoration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She can eat sour gummy cherries nonstop, and likes her chocolate cake cold. If you’re nice, she might just make you the perfect brownie. She wouldn’t mind being Oprah’s best friend, although she’d also be great as Santa’s helper. She might have liked to have had Atticus Finch for a father, although she’s pretty content with the parents she got, not to mention the little sister: “My sister was born two days after Christmas, and I always say she was the best Christmas gift my parents ever gave me. I love her more than chocolate cake, gummies, anything!”
Then there’s Han’s very special talent for nicknaming people and stuffed animals. That skill has definitely served her well while writing her novels, beginning with her first, Shug, which debuted in 2006 for middle-grade readers. Han perfectly captures the changing, questioning voice of 12-year-old Annemarie Wilcox, better known as Shug, with her complex mother, her distant father, her difficult older sister – and, most importantly, her new feelings for her whole-life best friend.
Three years later came the first of the Belly Trilogy, so named for about-to-turn-sweet-16 Isabel whose real life revolves around the summers at the beach, where two best friend mothers and their two children each spend idyllic months together. In 2009’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, Belly arrives transformed, and Jeremiah and Conrad, two brothers she’s known her entire life, finally take notice. While Shug was fluffy fun, Summer was a sighing, dreamy pleasure. It’s one of those books that we mothers passed around to each other, any guilt over depriving our children relieved by our own nostalgic enjoyment of reliving that impossibly carefree feeling of abandoned youth.
Then came It’s Not Summer without You, in 2010, when the death of Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother turns the summer family upside down, and the grieving survivors must work their way back together again. This month, the third installment, We’ll Always Have Summer, finally arrives.
In between the Belly books, Han released another standalone title for MG readers, her first with a specifically ethnic protagonist. Like Han, the eponymous Clara Lee in Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream, published earlier this year, is Korean American, “which means I was born in America but my blood is Korean,” as Clara Lee explains. Like Han, Clara Lee is also spunky, imaginative, and just naughty enough to be lots of fun. And like Han, Clara Lee also has quite the memorable little sister: “Emmeline [the younger Lee] is based on [my sister]. In fact, I gave the illustrator Julia Kuo pictures of us from when we were little!”
So, being of Asian background, did you grow up with a “Tiger Mother”? A “Panda Father”?
Ha! To a degree, yes. My mom forced both my little sister and me to take piano lessons, we did math flashcards at night, we went to Korean school every Saturday morning. But both of my parents have always been incredibly supportive of my writing and of creativity in general. My sister loved to swim, I loved to read – whatever we had a passion for, my parents supported. Besides, it became evident pretty quickly that I was never going to be a piano whiz or a mathlete. One other tigerish thing though – we weren’t allowed to go on sleepovers! That was the thing I longed for most of all – sleepovers. [... click here for more]
Author interview: Feature: “An Interview with Jenny Han,” Bookslut.com, May 2011
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult