Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published on April 15th, 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary Romance, Love & Romance, Romance, Young Adult
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Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them... all at once?
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.
For those who know me, they’ll tell you that I am not one who always steers in the direction of Contemporary Romance.
I typically have a hard time reading books within the Contemporary genre because sometimes I’m not able to connect with the situations/characters in the story. I think this is because I am not a “hopeless romantic? Here’s what I hate: too much drama. Sometimes, in real life, romance isn’t always so hard (at least within YA). Angst? No thank you. Emotions? Pfft, I’ll laugh at your feels.
I think we can go ahead an agree that I’m pretty much dead inside.
It’s kinda hard to get through some romance novels when my feels switch is broken…
That being said, imagine my surprise when I picked up a little book written by an author who is known for her CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE novels. All I can tell you is, that I saw this cover on the shelf:
and I knew I just could not leave the store without taking it home with me.
Yes, normally seeing the word “love” in the title would be a potential red flag for me, but on that particular day, I was feeling adventurous.
Once I got this baby home, I found that it was too pretty to read. (HAHA, I have problems.) So, after a quick 5 minute search on Amazon, I decided get the whispersync bundle (where I got both the kindle and audio copies at a discount when you buy together), and threw caution to the wind.
With this book, I determined that the best way to go about it would be to go in blind. I didn’t read the synopsis on the back, and I didn’t troll book reviews/ratings online. I just sat down, opened it up, and turned to the first page, and approached the book with an open mind.
I knew right away, that I was going to LOVE Lara Jean just from reading the first few paragraphs:
“I like to save things. Not important things like whales or people or the environment. Silly things. Porcelain bells, the kind you get at souvenir shops. Cookie cutters you’ll never use, because who needs a cookie in the shape of a foot? Ribbons for my hair. Love letters. Of all the things I save, I guess you could say my love letters are my most prized possession.
I keep my letters in a teal hatbox my mom bought me from a vintage store downtown. They aren’t love letters that someone else wrote for me; I don’t have any of those. These are ones I’ve written. There’s one for every boy I’ve ever loved—five in all.
When I write, I hold nothing back. I write like he’ll never read it. Because he never will. Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I’ve saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter. When I’m done, I seal it, I address it, and then I put it in my teal hatbox.
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. I can eat my cereal and not wonder if he likes bananas over his Cheerios too; I can sing along to love songs and not be singing them to him. If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free. Or at least they’re supposed to.”
My first thought: “Maybe this won’t be so bad…”
So I decided to take a page out of Elsa’s book:
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
If I could summarize my general thoughts in one sentence it would be: This book was a wonderfully realistic depiction of what it was like to discover love for the very first time.
I absolutely adored this book. Yeah, you read that right. I, Stephanie: hater of the feels, exterminator of the warm & fuzzies, and the same person who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of romantic things, LOVED this book.
This book sorta had a modern throw-back feel to it. It had me reminiscing about my younger days when I was in Middle School/High School and it was cool to write notes and pass them in class:
Throughout the story, Lara Jean goes through a process of self-discovery. I loved that she was cognizant of that fact that there are different degrees of “love”.
“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.”
As the love letters Lara Jean wrote to the five boys she was crushing on start arriving in their mailboxes, Lara Jean has to come to terms with her feelings for each them in a more timely fashion. Along with going through the standard growing pains, and “normal” teenage rites of passage (at age 15/16), she begins to learn about the different ways to love and be loved: platonic, familial, and romantic. As you may imagine, this is not an easy lesson learned.
Not all of her struggles in love were about the “boys” she loved before. She learns to cope with how to stay loyal to her family, while trying to stay true to herself, all while she tries to cope with the ever-changing aspects of her life. She goes from being the middle daughter who looks up to her older sister for guidance (after the passing of her mother), to being the surrogate maternal figure of her household after her older sister Margot goes away to college. She soon realizes that even though she had a healthy sisterly relationship with Margot, time and space can affect the strength of their bond.
“When someone’s been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it’s like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you’re just clutching air and grit. That’s why you can’t save it all up like that.”
Lara Jean does a lot of maturing in this book. I loved watching her growth, and seeing how she discovered all the nuances of love, lust, devotion, friendship, and infatuation. Though she uses the love letters she writes as a form of therapy, she recognizes that sometimes she has to face things head on, and it’s not as glamorous as she once thought it to be.
At the end of the day, Lara Jean learned what was most important to her:
If you couldn’t tell from my gush-fest, I loved this book. It read so genuine and sincere, and I felt like I was able to connect with each character in one way or another. I think my biggest worry when delving into some romance novels is that I won’t like the female MC/heroine. Especially when it’s told in first person POV. That being said, I LOVED Lara Jean’s voice. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story through her eyes, and from her point of view. I loved all of her family members, too. Her youngest sister Kitty almost stole the show with her witticisms, and charm.
Of all the boys Lara Jean loved before, I think that Peter was absolutely my favorite. Her interaction with him made for some entertaining and memorable moments (with a little Harry Potter cosplay, so I totes approve). Their banter made me feel all sorts of things: hope, happiness, giddiness, apprehension, disappointment, and contentment. Their relationship was organic, and the complete antithesis of “insta-love”. I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities that the future could possibly have in store for their friendship/relationship…
This was my first Jenny Han book, and I can promise you it won’t be my last. After meeting her last April, and listening to her speak, I very quickly became a forever fan. She advocates Diversity in Books, and she definitely puts her money where her mouth is, by delivering a multi-ethnical heroine in Lara Jean (who is half white, and half Korean) that I feel many readers out there will be able to relate to. I think that this was one of the things I loved most about this book, that I could empathize with some of the challenges of growing up looking different from your peers, and having to find a happy medium where you’re able to respectfully represent your family’s culture, traditions, languages, etc. I applaud Jenny for addressing this, and I’m so happy to see that books like this one are selling well, and making a statement that not every heroine has to be the stereotypical “all-American” girl that only a percentage of the population can relate to.
To my beloved Jenny Han:
Thank you for renewing my love for YA Contemporary. I can’t wait for book 2 to come out in 2015!
You know you need this in your life:
1 WINNER will win a SIGNED Hardcover copy of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han!
Open to all winners who provide a mailing address within the U.S.