Read an exclusive excerpt from Kuang's debut romance, 'How to End a Love Story.'
Yulin Kuang knows a thing or two about romance fiction.
A writer and director who's worked on shows such as Dollface and I Ship It, Kuang is steering the ship for the film versions of the bestselling novels of Emily Henry. She's the screenwriter for People We Meet on Vacation and is both writing and directing an adaptation of Beach Read. But now she's bringing her own book to the world — How to End a Love Story, which will hit shelves April 9.
High school classmates Helen Zhang and Grant Shepard haven't seen each other in 13 years — since the tragic accident that bound them together forever. Helen has moved on with her life, now a bestselling author, who has hit the jackpot with the opportunity to be part of the writer's room of the TV adaptation of her hit YA series. But her fresh start is complicated by the fact that Grant is also a writer on the show, a job he knows he shouldn't have taken. When they discover that working together is messy, yes, but also thrilling and intoxicating, they'll have to decide if they can seize the love story they were never meant to have.
Kuang shares an exclusive excerpt with EW, featuring Helen and Grant's first encounter at a writing team lunch. Read more below.
Excerpt from Yulin Kuang's 'How to End a Love Story'
Grant changes his shirt three times before the dinner and feels stupid every time he does it. He finally lands on a plain black T-shirt under a varsity crew jacket he bought at the Melrose flea market a few years ago with an ex-girlfriend.
He never rowed crew in high school or college, but Karina had assured him that didn’t actually matter. “It’ll look cool when you wear it on set.” And it did. She never steered him wrong in wardrobe, at least.
He’s spent the last week and a half debating if he should reach out to Helen before the writers room starts, then puts it off until it’s too late and he’s in an Uber en route to a seafood restaurant on the west side wondering if the varsity jacket was a mistake.
Maybe this whole thing was a mistake, but it’s too late to back down now.
When he gets to the reserved table and Helen isn’t there, he feels a gnawing sense of dread instead of relief. Something’s going to happen — he can feel the cosmic scales tipping against him — and he’d rather get it over with.
“Good, you’re finally here,” Suraya says, a mini–crab cake in hand. “Everyone, this is Grant, my number two.”
It’s a roll call of the usual suspects, Soapy Teen Drama Writers Room™ edition—the husband-and-wife writing team, the smart-funny-mean twenty-somethings, and the mini-Suraya (her name is Saskia) who clearly reminds the showrunner of herself twenty years ago.
Suraya glances up and beams. “And here’s our guest of honor, Helen Zhang.”
The table cheers rowdily and Grant looks up.
Helen Zhang, in the present tense. She looks — good. Her hair is swept back in a messy knot, the dark blue knit dress she’s wearing flashes a hint of light blue pleating with every step that brings her closer. She looks intimidating, put-together, and grown up and he suddenly feels inadequately prepared in every way for this moment.
Helen smiles tentatively as she looks around the table and her eyes drift past him conveniently — he can’t tell if this is on purpose or if she simply hasn’t registered him.
“Helen, we’ve got Tom, Eve, Owen, Saskia, Nicole, and Grant.”
Helen’s gaze snaps to Grant immediately and he feels like an insect pinned to paper.
“We’ve met,” she says neatly. There’s a sharpness to her voice that suddenly calls to mind an image of dispassionate scissors, cleanly snipping away any thread of destiny that has the gall to show up right now. “Grant and I went to high school together.”
She had noticed him immediately, standing next to Suraya like a cosmic joke. He still towers over everyone else in the room, though Grant Shepard’s build has leaned out since his high school football days. Is he wearing a letterman jacket? For a wild moment, Helen wonders if this is some kind of messed-up prank.
The showrunner’s brows lift and she throws Grant (Grant!) a bemused look. “You never mentioned that in your interview.”
Grant shucks the jacket off and sips his water in an obvious bid for time. He watches her over the rim of his glass. She’s perversely fascinated by what he could possibly say next and stares at the muscles of his throat (when’s the last time she thought about Grant Shepard’s throat?) working in anticipation. Finally, he swallows and sets the glass down lightly.
“Didn’t feel like a fair thing to do. The school in the books is nothing like the school we went to,” Grant says casually, his gaze flitting away from hers like it was never anything important. “Besides, I wanted to get the job because of how much you believed in me as a writer, Suraya.”
“Kiss-ass.” Suraya rolls her eyes. “He’s the number two,” she adds to Helen. “If I’m not in the room, Grant’s in charge of running things in the writers room.”
“Ah,” says Helen.
Her mouth is dry and her pulse pounds violently in her head from the effort of act normal, whatever that means here. Grant looks up at her then.
Come on, his expression seems to suggest, this doesn’t have to be weird if we don’t let it.
It’s as though he’s using the kind of psychic connection that’s only created by thirteen years of trying to forget the same thing, and she thinks she might be sick.
“You’ll have to tell us embarrassing stories about Grant later.” Suraya smiles.
“What are we eating?” Helen says instead.
And even as she feels with every fiber of her being that this is wrong, that this can’t possibly be happening, that maybe there should even be laws to prevent this from ever happening again — she finds herself sharing endless appetizers and politely laughing at everyone’s icebreaker jokes with Grant Shepard from opposite ends of the same table.
It becomes a silent game, who can seem more normal about this — maybe they’ll even make it the full twenty weeks exchanging only polite, respectful glances across a table and no one will ever bring up Helen’s dead sister or how she died.
Sometimes I wish you weren’t my sister.
When Suraya suggests they relocate to the rooftop for after-dinner drinks, Helen goes up first to claim a spot while everyone else freshens up and makes phone calls to friends and babysitters. Grant reappears first, two drinks in hand — margaritas, which feel inappropriately festive. There’s an air of slight hesitation in his stance that she finds to be unlike him and is suddenly infuriated by the thought.
“Is one of those for me?” she asks.
“If you want it to be.” He sets it down.
Their natural lives should have taken them far, far away from each other, never to meet or think about each other again after graduation. Helen takes the drink and knows she’s going to lose whatever game they’re playing first.
“I think you should quit,” she says abruptly.
Grant lifts his brows, then sips his drink coolly.
“Do you,” he says, sounding bored.
From HOW TO END A LOVE STORY by Yulin Kuang, published by Avon Books. Copyright © 2024 by Yulin Kuang. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.