To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #1
Published: 2014, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Margot would say she belongs to herself. Kitty would say she belongs to no one. And I guess I would say I belong to my sisters and my dad, but that won’t always be true. To belong to someone—I didn’t know it, but now that I think about, it seems like that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To really be somebody’s, and to have them be mine.
Lara Jean’s family is at a good place. But nothing good lasts forever, and Lara Jean is dreading the day her older sister Margot goes off to college in Scotland. Margot, who has held their family together ever since their mother died back when they were little. Margot, who has taken care of Lara Jean, their younger sister Kitty, and their father for so many years now. Lara Jean knows that it’s now her turn to take charge, but she’s not looking forward to her sister and best friend leaving her.
And, to make matters even worse, Lara Jean discovers that somehow the letters she’s written to her crushes over the years have actually been sent out. Those secret crushes? Not so secret anymore. Her most unfortunate crush was the one that Lara Jean harbored (and perhaps still harbors) for Margot’s now ex-boyfriend Josh. To save herself from further humiliation, Lara Jean makes a deal with another one of her letter recipients, Peter K. “Dating” Peter K. is the perfect plan: Josh will think Lara Jean’s truly over him, and Peter K.’s ex-girlfriend Genevieve will get so jealous she’ll come crawling back into Peter’s arms.
I like those stories that rely on fake relationships; that’s one trope that hasn’t gotten old for me just yet. I’m happy to report that despite some issues I had here and there with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I was fully a fan of Lara Jean and Peter’s “romance.” Despite a friendship in middle school (and a brief attraction on at least Lara Jean’s part), Lara Jean and Peter K. parted ways many years ago. Perhaps it was for the best, as Peter’s become a popular jock who is frequently crushed upon, although he’s been in a committed relationship for the past few years, or he was until recently. As for Lara Jean, she prefers to stand in the shadows and let Margot shine.
At first, Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship is about as awkward as readers would imagine it would be. It certainly seems as though the two have nothing in common. Through some skillful characterization, however, Han is able to convincingly show that these two are able to establish a solid understanding of one another. And I quite enjoyed it.
More than relationships - be they failed or fake or floundering - To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is about family and deciding what really matters in our lives. The bonds Lara Jean has with Margot, with Kitty, and with their father are flawed at times, and yet they’re also genuine and hopeful. More than anything else, Lara Jean establishes her identity through her sisters, as one of the “Song girls.” The events of the novel help Lara Jean come into her own, but there’s no denying how truly powerful it is to see all that Lara Jean would do for her sisters - and all they would do for her.
The main issue I had with this novel has to do with Lara Jean’s narration. Although she’s entering her junior year of high school, she didn’t seem any older than a young teen. Her thoughts felt very childish and in general her actions portrayed her as being unrealistically naive. Some of the genuineness I felt in other aspects of the book was called into question when compared to Lara Jean’s narration.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kitty spoke and acted in a way that belied a far greater maturity than her nine years. I almost felt as though Lara Jean and Kitty should have switched ages. It’s one thing to make a character naive; but it’s problematic if her naivete comes across as stupidity or disingenuous (as sometimes happened in this novel).
I liked the story being told and I certainly sympathized with the difficulties in Lara Jean’s life. As far as relatability is concerned, I suppose Lara Jean is pretty easy to empathize with as well. Garnering my sympathy and empathy, however, does not mean that I truly liked Lara Jean; there was far too much of a disconnect for me between how I thought she should act (given her age, circumstances, etc.) and how she does act.
But that’s just me. At its core, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a rather heartwarming story about a girl finding herself and her beliefs amidst so many changes. And in that regard it succeeds brilliantly.
Rating: 3.5 stars