"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. "
Summary from Goodreads.
The Quick of It:
I've never heard a bad word about any of Jenny Han's books before and I'd stumbled on a number of positive reviews of To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Plus I was at the library this week and I was in the mood for realistic fiction and also my self control in a library may call for therapy. I started it that day and tore through it, staying up till 3 in the morning last night so I could finish it. I just loved her writing style, and it was especially cool because it's kind of a Glass Menagerie retelling (I say kind of because the parallels are there but the overwhelming depression isn't).
"When I write, I hold nothing back...Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I've saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter."
The only part of the book I have a demerit for is also kind of spoiler-y. Proceed with caution!!
Start of the Spoiling: At the end of the book, a rumor is started that Lara Jean had sex with a guy in the hot tub. In some regards, Han handles it well, in showing the discrepancies between how girls and guys are treated. (The guy is a stud while the girl is a slut because female sexuality is SCARY and EVIL *waggles fingers demonically*). But then Lara Jean seemed to reinforce that. When her dad finds out, it's natural that she is mortified and overwhelmed and defensive, but then she says things like she can't believe he'd think "the worst" of her. First of all, her dad doesn't want her growing up too fast (understandable, especially from a parent's POV), but he doesn't indicate that he doesn't think well of her now because of it. That's all Lara Jean. In addition, the only other girls who are sexually active in the book (Peter's ex, Genevieve, and Lara Jean's best friend, Chris) are either depicted as catty and manipulative (Gen) or out-of-control and self-destructive (Chris). We're told that Margot has had sex, too, but even here it's something she regrets. Spoiling Over!
Initially, I thought it was cool that Lara Jean wanted to wait to have sex till she was older or married because she was making a choice that worked for her. But when there's a narrative set up that shames girls for making a different choice, that results in a demerit.
Making the Grade:
It's a coming-of-age story! And a sister story! I absolutely love a good sister story, maybe because I don't have any sisters. Their bond is tighter than anything- drama, chores duties, boys (literally the definition of "sisters before misters"). Her relationship, especially as Kitty's older sister, added so much heart to the book. It kind of reminded me of a Stephanie Perkin's novel in that sense- you could feel the genuine love between the characters (even when they were screaming at each other).
"Sisters are supposed to fight and make up, because they are sisters
and sisters always find their way back to each other."
The Song sisters are Korean on their mother's side and it was awesome to see a biracial protagonist in a YA book. (This is actually my first book for the 2015 Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge.) Celebrating her Korean culture (usually through her dad's cooking) is a way for her to remember her mom and adds to the bond she shares with her sisters. It's not all peachy, though; Lara Jean also has annoying little things she has to put with up (like how on Halloween everyone thinks she's a manga character no matter what she dresses as).
"There are very limited options for Asian girls on Halloween. Like one year I went as Velma from Scooby-Doo, but people just asked me if I was a manga character."