Author: Jenny Han
Find the author: Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr
Also by this author: P.S. I Still Love You, Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1
Also in this series: P.S. I Still Love You, Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: April 15th 2014
Source: Purchased on BookOutlet.com
Lara Jean’s love life gets complicated in this New York Times bestselling “lovely, lighthearted romance” (SLJ) from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?
Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I am a thousand years late to the Lara Jean love fest, but better late than never, right? This is a true story for dreamers, and it’s one that I fell for, hard and fast.
Lara Jean Covey is the middle sister in a loving family, with a busy obstetrical surgeon of a dad, perfect older sister Margot, and fun younger sister Kitty. Lara Jean is a homebody; she loves baking, scrapbooking, and being cozy.
Lara Jean is also a bit boy-crazy. What the synopsis doesn’t tell you, though, is that this is not really a letter-themed book. Instead, it’s about what happens when Lara Jean begins to have feelings (again) for her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.
If you haven’t experienced To All the Boys yet, let me make that really clear: this is not an epistolary novel. Do not listen to the synopsis – it’s kind of misleading. Yes, there are letters. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But it very quickly stops being about the letters. Instead, it’s a full on fauxmance/fake relationship book. It’s a hate-to-love romance with complicated relationships, and developed characters.
For me, To All the Boys was the perfect sugary sweet YA I needed for the holidays. It’s a book that absolutely adores its characters, that wants you to want to live and breathe them. Jenny Han envelops you in the warmth of the Covey household, the antics of the sisters, an incredible feeling of family. I haven’t lost a mother as Lara Jean and her sisters did, but the way Jenny Han describes the sisterly relationships, their Korean mother, and the family now is magical.
To All The Boys is also one of the best books about a character with a rich inner life that I’ve ever read. The book celebrates Lara Jean’s introvertedness and her desire for safety, home, and family. But it also doesn’t allow her to get away with just that.The character development was slow and stilted, allowing us to get to know how Lara Jean ticked, and how much she was risking by putting herself out there.
Lara Jean’s best qualities are her understanding of what she loves, and her ability to delve into those lives wholeheartedly and passionately. She’s a fangirl, a girl filled with passion and potential – but it takes a lot for her to show herself. And the friendships between Lara Jean and some of the other characters in the novel grew from really trying to understand and see each other.
Speaking of the unnamed love interests, the male characters are really typical of high school boys I used to know. Peter K, in particular, is cocky as hell, sometimes really stupid, doesn’t apply himself. And yet, there’s something in him drawn to Lara Jean. He’s the opposite of her in his temperament, his approach to life, but it’s a true balance that they strike between them.
I’m not gonna lie. This book is messy as hell. Between the fauxmance, the family, and their friend circles, there’s a bit too much melodrama. But I understand now why so many teens love it. You can’t help but fall for Lara Jean and her hopeful, dreamy ways. She’s funny, she’s sweet, and she cares very, very deeply about things. That last quality gets her into some really silly situations, but despite that, I never stopped rooting for her.
On Lara Jean, The Realistically Immature Teen [slightly spoilery discussion]
I know a lot of people have been turned off by how young Lara Jean read. While writing this post, I realized that I have a lot to say about how Lara Jean feels true-to-life for me. It’s true that she seems like an ingenue – that perfectly awkward, pretty but doesn’t know it, unbelievably naive character. I think this was a deliberate choice by Jenny Han for two reasons.
The first reason is that Lara Jean is kind of in love with vintage things. I think it makes sense that her worldview stems
from a sort of 50s/60s Hollywood idealism. There’s definitely a bit of a Princess Ann in Roman Holiday in her – both in her naivete and wonder at the world. It’s part of her charm, but it also fits with her aesthetic.
But I also think that there is a reason that so many teens have connected with Lara Jean – teens who maybe aren’t as interested in the vintage, the pretty, the girly. Lara Jean is, for all her quirks, really normal – and I think people respond to that.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that there are very few characters in YA that are a lot like me in high school. Lara Jean is one of them. Like Lara Jean, I was young for my age, immature, with no experience with boys. Like Lara Jean, I wrote letters to boys I liked and never mailed them. Like Lara Jean, I liked being at home reading, talking on the phone, listening to music or watching TV in high school. I was a good girl like her. So to me, Lara Jean read as very true to life.
YA these days tends to be pretty sophisticated. We’re used to characters who are more experienced in dating, love, sex, and even just friendship. Lara Jean stands in stark contrast to that. At one point, Lara Jean talks about how she felt invisible at school before she started “dating” Peter K, who is quite the big man on campus. I don’t think it’s because of Peter that she started feeling more seen. Rather, she never really thought of putting herself out there because no one ever pushed her to do so.
Lara Jean is a girl who thrives on comfort and safety, so much so that until her sister Margot goes away for college, her friend group consisted of Margot and Margot’s boyfriend. She’s never had to try to put herself out there because her inner life and family life was so good. Because of that, she’s pretty innocent to all the things that are happening at school – and thus, dating. She reads younger because her exposure is so much less.
I think the brilliance of the book – and of Jenny Han’s characterization of Lara Jean – is that she isn’t super experienced – but she doesn’t ever feel bad or weird about it until someone mentions it. Sure, Lara Jean is a little bit gullible and definitely naive, but she’s also a girl who believes in her choices, and is okay with making her home life important. She’s strong in what she likes and dislikes. And she pulls a popular kid like Peter K into her world. It’s just…lovely to see how much she owns her loves. I appreciated Jenny Han making a character who’s not super out there the star of this book. And I think the fact that she’s socially awkward makes her really relateable.
Incredible Narration: I started To All the Boys on audiobook and tried to switch to paper afterwards. But narrator Lara Knight Keating was so brilliant at capturing the atmosphere of Lara Jean’s cozy home, the voices of her sisters and her dad, and all the boys in her life that I switched right back. This is the first time I’ve ever had an audiobook where I could NOT STOP READING. Every time I got to the end of a chapter, I would be like, “oh, just one more won’t hurt.”
The Giggles: I laughed out loud a ton of times during this book, because a) the book really is a comedy of errors and b) Lara Jean is really awkward. OMG, the secondhand embarrassment is OFF THE CHARTS cringe-y. There were no shortage of moments where I KNEW something silly was going to happen but I had to laugh anyway.
#ownvoices Contemporary: I loved that this was a rom-com about a half-Korean girl that didn’t make a big deal about diversity. She simply IS half-Korean, and it both has to do with the story and not at all.
Book Theme Song:
I feel like this song perfectly encapsulates the sugary-sweet hate-to-love of To All the Boys. And obviously, its from 1949, so it’s vintage!
The Final Word:
If you’re not into love triangles, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before probably isn’t for you. But if you don’t mind messy relationships and characters who are a bit naive, this is SO your book. I mainlined this adorable romance/family book and I’m glad I did. Compelling, vulnerable, and unapologetically girly, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before basks in and owns its awkward and homey main character. If you haven’t picked it up yet, put this at the top of Mount TBR. You won’t regret it.
Are you guys To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before fans? Have you read any of Jenny Han’s other books, like the Summer series or the next Lara Jean book, P.S. I Still Love You? Also, the final book in this series comes out in May – will you be reading Always and Forever, Lara Jean? Are you okay with sometimes whiny or immature characters? Let me know in the comments!