To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #1
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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Lara Jean 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 can pour out her heart and soul and say 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.
I’ve literally had this book on my radar since seeing the beautiful cover – what – freshman year of high school in book shelves? But I never picked it up, because I guess it was just never my type of story. Now it’s the end of senior year, and I’m about to become a freshman at college next semester. I have the admit, freshman me would have been annoyed at Lara Jean’s silliness and downright vapid actions at times. But now, I get where she’s coming from. I understand the imperfections and flaws of characters, not just on a romantic level, but a life level. And at this point of my life, I do appreciate Lara Jean being flawful and having as much growth as she did in this book.
Lara Jean has crushed on five guys in her life, and to get rid of the crushes, she ends them by writing unsent letters to the boys. One day, they mysteriously (not that mysterious) get sent and she has to face the consequences. One is that her crush Josh, who is her sister’s ex-boyfriend, saw her love letter to him. The other is that her first kiss Peter, who is currently in a break-up himself, saw her love letter to him. Ensue drama and ridiculous antics from both sides.
“They’re not love letters in the strictest sense of the word. My letters are for when I don’t want to be in love anymore. They’re for good-bye.”
I guess the romance is the biggest thing I felt a disconnect with in the book. In my eighteen years of life, I’ve never crushed on a significant other or fallen in love with any other person (in fact, the very thought makes me grimace). Thus, it’s only natural that I did not understand where Lara Jean was coming from by making her relationship drama a huge deal. But you know what? That’s absolutely okay. I still enjoyed watching her make mistakes and learn from them and grow throughout the course of her love life troubles. I start looking at them as if watching a Korean drama and it actually turned out better (I guess I’m so used to silly antics in kdramas)! There are a lot of cute and sweet moments, but I also hesitate to get onboard the ship. For every sweet action Peter does, there’s another unresolved action he does that only increases tension and makes me wary of his character. The love triangle was also laughable because it is obvious who’s there for maximum drama and who’s there that helps Lara Jean mature as a person. I guess the last thing on this note is that I really wanted to get on the ship, but both boys in the love triangle were “meh” for me. Hopefully the sequel redeems them!
Basically what happens in the book is that Lara Jean enters a contract relationship with Peter to make Genevieve – his ex – and Josh – her then current crush – jealous (or at least, make them unaffected), which would be a win-win. What both Lara Jean and Peter don’t expect is to actually start developing feelings for the other. I thought this part of the plot was well-done. The contract goes from a hesitant alliance/semi-friendship to a more trustful relationship with inside jokes and acceptance from both friends and family. It’s a gradual development that took place in what I thought was the perfect pace. In fact, it’s the perfect kind of pace to make up for the total lack of plot that the book revolves around.
“It sure is nice being part of a group, feeling like I belong.”
Near the 200-page mark, I actually put the book down to ask myself what exactly was even happening. The blurb says it all, though: this is certainly centered around Lara Jean’s love life, and is a character-driven story. First semester of junior year happens, but at the same time it may feel like not much is happening at the same time. It’s an exploration of relationships and family, and how fear can make you take a step back from the possibilities in life. Speaking of family, that is the absolute best part of the book, in my opinion. Lara Jean actually, sadly, does not have much friends (one token female friend but hey, she’s a fun character). Instead, the book focuses much more on her energetic and loving family, composed of two Song sisters and their doctor dad. Lara Jean is biracial, half-Korean and half-white, but readily embraces her Korean heritage as well. Her younger sister, Kitty, provided a vibrant force with tons of stellar dialogue while her older sister, Margot, was a mature, responsible foil to Lara Jean’s tendency to dream. Add to it their supportive, if not entirely up-to-date, father, and you get an extremely dynamic household that’ll really touch readers’ hearts. I love that their conflicts, their get-togethers, and family traditions were so real as well. They were easily situations that I can imagine any loving, large family, would be in.
This book basically revolves around Lara Jean’s life, so there’s not much I can really say any more without spoiling it. Suffice it to say, there’s tremendous character growth on her part that I feel like could have been more fleshed out towards the end. Stay for the loving, supportive sisters (and as silly of mistakes that sisters can make). Lara Jean may also seem silly at times, but she does learn throughout it all. Reading from her narrative was funny, too. I may have not laughed out loud while reading, but I was smiling inwardly at her dialogue.
“How was I supposed to know what’s real and what’s not? It feels like I’m the only one who doesn’t know the difference.”
The biggest surprise for me was that inconclusive, ambiguous, and rushed ending. Like – wow! If I hadn’t known this was a trilogy, I would not have liked this book as much. There was a semblance of introspection and exploration of Lara Jean and her past actions, but that is cut way too short. I’m glad there’s room for more in the next two books, because wow did that ending surprise me. There was much more discussion, dialogue between characters, and understanding on both sides needed for there to be a solid conclusion, in my opinion.
So honestly, if you’re not a fan of somewhat meaningless high school relationship drama and antics, might as well skip this one. But I for one saw it as a super fluffy and cute-sy read, with enough depth in family dynamics and exploration of feelings that make it worth my time. Lara Jean’s love life may be far from relatable for me, but her growth as a character, sister, and pseudo-girlfriend (okay, maybe not pseudo-girlfriend) made her likable to me.