Goodreads: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #1
Published: January 1, 2014
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a cute contemporary novel that asks the question: “What would happen if all the boys you’ve ever crushed on found out about your feelings…in excruciating detail?” Luckily for protagonist Lara Jean, the answer isn’t all that bad. (I could definitely imagine things going really, really bad.) The result is a quick read that’s a dash of comedy with a healthy dose of romance, seasoned tastefully with tough questions about balancing love, school, and family.
I do wish the letters and the fallout were more center-stage. Reading the official summary, one would expect this novel to be really high drama as crushes Lara Jean forgot about ages ago came crawling in droves out of the woodwork, some flattered and some irritated. One also might have images of cliche high school movies where some of these leaked letters get published and virally shared. In reality, the book focuses on just a couple of boys that Lara Jean’s letter reached. This approach probably does give the book more focus than it would have otherwise, and it allows readers to really get to know the characters involved, but it’s certainly not high-impact in terms of drama.
Just a few boys also means the book has space to focus on Lara Jean’s family, which may be the best part. (To be honest, I didn’t find that boys that interesting or convincingly attractive.) Lara Jean is very close with both of her sisters, and the book opens with the family coping with the oldest daughter’s moving away to college. Her absence is ultimately makes her really present in the novel, as Lara Jean constantly struggles with missing her and wanting to contact her and wanting to leave her alone to enjoy the college experience. When this sister comes back into the book at the end, it’s actually somewhat of a letdown as Han introduces a new character arc for her that never gets resolved.
The novel’s prose is also remarkable; it’s clearly the author’s attempt to write in an authentic teenager’s voice. On the whole, I think Jenny Han does achieve this effect with a grace and accuracy many authors do not. The writing is convincingly casual and young, without the ridiculous amount of slang and references to “trendy” things like social media that many authors employ. However, while I admire Han’s ability to write like a teenager, I can’t say I really enjoy it. There’s a reason teenagers don’t get a lot of book deals and the general public typically doesn’t want to read their prose. (Hint: It’s usually not that good.)
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a fun read for me, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I’m also not really interested in the sequel (P.S. I Still Love You), even though I think that a sequel is highly necessary to make the plot feel as if it is actually going somewhere.