Category: series review

Series Review: To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han

Posted April 6, 2018 by Kim in books, series review / 0 Comments

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased

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.

I had my qualms about this series, because after being impressively frustrated with the main character of The Summer I Turned Pretty, I didn’t know if I was once again being misled by pretty covers. In the end, these books were too aesthetically enchanting to resist, and Jenny Han perfectly blends together realism and a romantic Korean-American protagonist to create a contemporary story I adored.

To All the Boys I Loved Before

Lara Jean Covey Song

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. Because after I write my letter, I’m no longer consumed by my all-consuming love.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Lara Jean could be described along the lines of, “She’s naive; she’s idealistic; she’s a dreamer.” I find cynical characters fascinating to explore, but I have a special place in my heart for hopeful characters. And for an exceptionally innocent high school student, Lara Jean is surprisingly mature when it comes to dealing with the tricky emotion we call love.

I understand how Covey’s decisions might baffle some readers, especially those removed from the often dramatic years of being a teenager. However, seeing Lara Jean is the closest I’ve felt to seeing myself and my experiences in a book. She prefers the comfort of her home to outings, her closest friends are her family, and I appreciate that Lara Jean is a pretty, energetic, and impulsive girl.

in love with what you are (and not what you should be)

Years of reading and watching television shows has given me an idea of the idealistic romance — the perfect guy, the perfect girl, the perfect love. I don’t often want to read about the stupid mistakes characters make when they’re blinded by emotion, because well, why don’t we save those frustrating situations for real life? I like my characters to make rational choices all the time, but that really means that I don’t want my characters to feel human. I don’t want to see them make silly mistakes, since there are ways they could’ve easily avoided them. It’s easy to ignore that the only reason I see the other options is because I’m the audience looking in.

Lara Jean calls them love letters, but writing is also her way of saying goodbye. I journal because giving my thoughts form and weight make them undeniably real. And when our emotions become something tangible, they’re something we can let go of. Moments like when Lara Jean flops on the floor in distress because her letters disappeared show that she’s still a child at heart, and that makes her a lot more endearing than if she was just the human form of rational behavior. I can’t say I like all of Covey’s decisions, but give her some credit: it’s her first romantic relationship and she’s learning.

Chris & Margot & Kitty

At first, I didn’t think that Lara Jean’s relationship with her best friend would prove to be a healthy dynamic, but I rescinded that assumption quickly. Chris isn’t a spirit you can change, but she is always there for Lara Jean when it counts. Lara Jean says the two of them make for an unlikely pair, but because they grew up together their childhood bond isn’t something they can just replicate with someone else. (Much like both of their “bond” with Genevieve.) Chris tells her she snuck alcohol in a shampoo bottle and Lara Jean doesn’t reprimand her, but instead worry-whispers that she better have washed out the container well. That’s solid high school friendship for you.

The moment I knew I loved Chris though was when Lara Jean doesn’t want to sit with Peter so Chris doesn’t move from the seat.

Margot’s not the kind of girl to break up and get back together on a whim; once she’s decided something, that’s it. There’s no waffling, no regrets. It’s like she said: when she’s done, she’s just done.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Margot is an interesting character, because she’s the Song sister I most want to be. She’s ambitious, responsible, intelligent, and she’s logical. She’ll follow her head to make the best decision possible. What I admire most about her is that she doesn’t wallow in regrets. When she makes a choice, she sees it through to the end. Her personality makes the few times we see her really show her emotions all the more impactful.

I’m not the biggest fan of Josh. I think he had a lot of turmoil he needed to work through without projecting them onto Lara Jean, but I understand that he’s a part of the Song sisters’ history. But man, if you ask me, Peter is a part of their future. I love how simple it was when he confessed, with the opener: “Wanna hear something funny?”

I don’t know if Kitty will remember eating these rice balls, but I hope that her heart will.

– To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

The family aspect is one of my favorite parts of this whole trilogy. Especially because Lara Jean is so content to be at home, the bond she has with her dad and sisters really shine. They don’t always see eye to eye, but it doesn’t mean anything serious, because at the end of the day they’re still family.

One random sidenote: It makes me uncomfortable that Ms. Davenport thrives off student drama, but it’s interesting to consider how involved teachers should be with their students’ personal lives.

P.S. I Still Love You

“You’re my sister, and that’s more.”

– P.S. I Still Love You

P.S. I Still Love You was my favorite book in the whole series, which was surprising because a lot of readers enjoyed it the least. I loved it because I thought it was the most realistic of the three books, and because I can’t do without some angst.

I read a lot of new adult with the fake relationship trope (it’s one of my favorites), but To All the Boys I Loved Before plays it out in a way that feels fresh to me. There were butterflies watching Lara Jean fall in love so innocently, and yet you don’t miss out on the pure rush.

In P.S. I Still Love You, we deal with the repercussions of the pretend relationship. Falling in love doesn’t erase the fact that Lara Jean originally wanted to avoid confronting her feelings for her sister’s boyfriend or that Peter wanted to show Genevieve that it was over once and for all. There are hard questions that Lara Jean has to answer for herself as she transitions from a fake relationship to a real one.

Can you be in love with two people at the same time? How far is too far before it’s time to just let go?

toxicity vs. regular relationships

I think this must be some part of what I feel for Genevieve. Jung is why I can’t hate her. We’re tied.
And Jung is why Peter can’t let her go. They’re tied too. If my dad did what her dad did, wouldn’t I reach out to the one person who never turned me away? Who was always there, who loved me more than anyone? Peter is that person for Genevieve. How can I begrudge her that?

I thought a lot about what makes up unhealthy relationships during this book. On one hand, we have this old relationship between Peter and Genevieve that was constantly on and off, fights in the hallway, screaming in corners. Peter recognizes that Gen is manipulative, but he’s enamored with feeling wanted and she’s attached to the idea of being perfect. In high school, it’s Peter who makes up the other half of her idea of being the “perfect couple.”

Then we have John Ambrose McClaren, who was part of the same circle of friends before they all gradually grew apart. And he honestly does everything right. Lara Jean and John work, whether as friends or the idea of something more. Except her heart, though swayed by this reappearance of a boy she once knew, is in love with Peter. Jenny Han brings up the idea that sometimes in a world of people who could suit you, it’s a question of who you meet first. I’m still not ready to just let go of John, but at this point in her life, Lara Jean and Peter make sense. And because Peter’s the guy that she wants in the end, I’m more than happy to support her.

Peter’s long standing relationship with Genevieve and his new one with Lara Jean both felt realistically written, but only the latter appeared healthy. I can’t think of any couples who never argue, much less fight. What’s more important is how those fights make you feel on the inside, and how you work (or don’t work) through them as a couple.

Our cast of characters are high school students. They haven’t had a lot of time to figure themselves out, much less figure out how they should be with someone else. Even though they’re broken up, Peter and Gen were friends first. The two of them know some of each other’s deepest secrets, so even if the two of them have grown apart in ways, it isn’t so easy to just make a clean break with all their history.

It makes sense that Lara Jean doesn’t like that fact. She experienced Genevieve’s antagonistic personality, and even back when they were still friends, Gen made her uncomfortable by doing things like refusing to let Lara Jean leave her house when they were young. What Peter chose to do in this book was upsetting and unfair to Covey, but maybe it says a lot about his character in good and bad ways. If he had ignored Gen instead of acting ridiculous, it would have made him uncharacteristically cold. Still, he made his ex-girlfriend the priority when he shouldn’t have. Instead of helping her turn to people who could help, he vindicated her disturbing actions toward Lara Jean by hiding them. I love that Lara Jean saw other options when Peter didn’t give her the respect she deserved, and that she ended it when she saw that he couldn’t put her first.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

for everyone who ever went through the college application process

When was the last time you read a young adult book where its teenage characters talked about applying to college, SAT tests, and their anticipation of a rejection or welcome to the class of 20-whatever email?

the first one is the worst

With options like early action and early decision, seniors might feel inclined to apply to one of their dream schools first. Those routes provide a decision before regular applicants receive theirs, and it’ll feel like the moment of truth when the first result comes back.

Following the advice of her guidance counselor, Lara Jean chooses not to apply to UVA early. I think it’s pointless to wonder what could have been – if with her solid grades it would have been beneficial to apply early. What matters here is that the answer isn’t one she wanted, much less expected, and Covey has to deal with the rejection. And she doesn’t do it well.

I wasn’t a big fan of how she coped in the beginning. I really understand that it sucks, perhaps even more so because you thought the result you wanted was a given. Still, the way she was planning her next four years around Peter and the chance that she could transfer into another college made me feel like Margot made the right decision when she was in her place. You can’t redo your freshman year at college, so focus on experiencing it well in the first place. Even if you decide you want to transfer schools, don’t waste your time floating in regret.

This was basically one whole book of Lara Jean making decisions I couldn’t see myself making, which kind of negates the whole I-see-myself-in-her thing we had going on in the first book.

on re-marrying

I get it. Covey is a perfectionist. But the kind of girl who wants everything to go right usually wants it to go her way. The wedding business was the first time that Lara Jean started grating on my nerves. I’m happy my frustration didn’t last long, but for the sake of how much I love Peter Kavinsky, what is the big deal about letting Kitty wear a tuxedo? When Kitty tells Lara Jean that she can’t just decide everything on a wedding that isn’t hers, I wanted to hug her. And Kristen didn’t make the situation any better, because she tried to do the same thing Lara Jean did. Arguing with teenagers, putting her “foot down” on decisions that should be the bride’s to make, and self-satisfyingly lamenting that disappointments are good for kids.

It felt important that Margot was resistant to Ms. Rothschild, the woman across the street who always spilled her coffee, suddenly becoming Trina. Of all the sisters, Margot is the one who remembers their mother most. She’s the one who had to start putting her family back together after such a heavy loss. When Margot comes home from college, it already feels strange because there’s framed pictures she doesn’t recognize and an armchair she’s never sat in. The wedding portrait of her mother has been replaced by a shoreline painting.

the other loves

After being so relevant in P.S. I Still Love You, John and Genevieve are barely present in this novel. I can’t decide if that’s realistic because friends drift apart after rejection or if it’s just weird. John does live far away though, and I don’t really mind losing the push and pull from Gen and Peter.

 

Peter Kavinsky and Lara Jean

“Lara Jean, we’re not even having sex. That would be the immaculate conception.”

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Peter Kavinsky was never a hard sell for me. I loved him from the first to the last book just for all the little and big things he does for Lara Jean.

Usually, contemporary novels aren’t the fastest reads for me. They don’t tend to have action that makes your heart race, but I was always halfway through these books before I even realized. For a long time Lara Jean was in love with the idea of love, and that’s why she could close a chapter of it with a letter and start another. When you bring a real person into the mix, things start getting a little messier.

I like that Lara Jean has matured to a point where she can be confident in her relationship with Peter, and that Genevieve doesn’t bother her anymore. I loved Peter and Kitty’s relationship throughout the whole series; that it didn’t solely exist because he’s dating her sister. Family is a huge portion of what matters most to Lara Jean, and Peter has become a part of it. We want the best for the people we love, so the relationship dilemma in book three is a serious question that high school couples have to ask themselves.

When you go to two different colleges but came from the same high school, you’ll have to get used to the I’ll see you when I can see you. Otherwise, it’ll be easy to fall into this hole of what are they doing and who are they hanging out with? Especially because Peter will be attending the school that Lara Jean dreamed of. I like that Lara Jean acknowledges her jealousy that other people will attend UVA but works through it herself. (Another sign that she’s maturing in different ways.) What I liked most though was that her actions in the latter part of the book came from a selfless place. For a while she agrees with Peter’s mom that letting go was the best way of loving Peter. And I like that she wants to be selfless, but Peter isn’t having any of it, so she’ll try it the other way with him. Maybe it’ll last, maybe it won’t. I sure hope it does.

Lax Guys (Gabe & Darrrel)

If there’s one thing I wished we saw more of, it’s Lara Jean’s relationships with the boys who played lacrosse with Peter. I love that we got to see her make new friends outside of her bubble in the first book, but I loved her dynamic with the lax guys in particular. How they crowded around the food she made so that Peter could only get a bite in before it was all gone, and how they were part of her birthday party. I just wanted a couple more scenes with them.

Overall

After lunch Kitty goes with me to the hair salon, to supervise. She tells the stylist, “Don’t make it too done, do you know what I mean?”

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

I think it’s charming that Kitty is so talented with hair. I loved these books, and I loved these characters. I’m half a second away from begging for a few more stories about Lara Jean and Peter. Maybe even Margot and how she fell in love again. I might have to go back and give the rest of the Summer series a try, but I’m more excited about what Jenny Han has in store for the future.

Rating Report
Characters
4.5 star rating
Plot
4 star rating
Writing
4.5 star rating
Pacing
4.5 star rating
Overall 4.38 stars

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