Now that everyone—excepting myself, naturally—has seen the movie, time to look at the book. Much like with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I didn’t read Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before until people went gaga over the movie. You’ll quickly notice, if you haven’t already, that this is a pattern with some popular books and me, so I won’t begin another review like that again. I managed to be pleasantly entertained by Green’s work, but does Han’s book about teenage love and drama elicit the same response?
Lara Jean Song’s life changes when Margo, her older sister, goes off to college in Scotland. Now faced with the responsibilities of the eldest, Lara Jean tries to look after their fun-loving sister Kitty, as well as manage a blossoming crush on her long-time neighbor, and Margo’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. But then, the secret love letters Lara Jean wrote to every boy she’s ever loved, including Josh, are accidentally mailed to them. Lara Jean finds herself in a tangled web when Peter Kavinsky, another recipient of her letters, offers her a proposition: pretend to be his girlfriend to spite his ex-girlfriend, and Lara Jean’s ex-best friend, Genevieve.
A good book comes in many forms, as they say, but a good book also has many reasons to love it. As a fellow middle child, I found quite a bit in common with Lara Jean, especially in her desire for her little sister to look up to her; I don’t quite share her anxiety of driving, but I do remember how it first felt. I saw so much of my two sisters in Margo and Kitty, and I’ve never felt more quickly endeared to three sisters as I did the Song girls. When I wasn’t laughing, I was crying at how their love endures even when their circle isn’t complete.
My love for Lara Jean and her sisters might also have come from my sisters and I listening to the audiobook to and from my older sister’s bachelorette party. We were high on nostalgia and being together after so long apart made what the Songs felt ring louder to me. Obviously, believable characters are essential to any story, but not every author can write sisterly bonds so true that it elicits snotty tears, and makes your older sister reach behind her seat to hold your hand till you feel better—thanks, big sis.
On the other hand, Lara Jean gets caught between two very different boys, with Josh as the boy-next-door who loves the Song girls like sisters, and Peter as the egotistical slacker jock. Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? Yeah, in a way. That is to say, Josh and Peter read believably, and they both have their flaws, but I didn’t entirely believe the chemistry between Peter and Lara Jean. They have an interesting dynamic, and I believe their friendship, but not necessarily their romance. It’s almost too little too late, at least, compared to what emotions I felt toward the sisters. Again, I want to emphasize that I enjoyed each character, but for the romance to carry the right weight, it had to feel more like Lara Jean was truly drawn more toward one boy than the other, instead of trying to balance the two. Love triangles are tricky to do, and this one does stumble a little, but it could have been much, much worse, believe me.
Also, I kind of wanted to more heavily feel the dislike between Genevieve and Lara Jean. Genevieve has presence all throughout the book; she is Lara Jean’s ex-best friend, and her cousin, Chris, now holds that position in Lara Jean’s life. But in order for Lara Jean to agree to help Peter spite her, I needed more personal reason on Lara Jean’s part. Genevieve is definitely a witch, but more sympathy points could have been given to Lara Jean in exchange for extra mean-girl-ness from Genevieve.
I definitely enjoyed this book for one reason over another, and I’m sure there are others who loved it for one reason over another. I’m kind of disappointed the whole thing didn’t resonate, but I can still appreciate that it made me feel what it did. I’m probably not going to rush to get the rest of the trilogy, but I’ll likely put on the movie when I’m wearing fluffy, girly pajamas, eating a tub of ice cream, and having a text conversation with my two best girls, my sisters.