Title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 15, 2014)
Amazon Review: 4.4/5 stars
I borrowed this book from my local library.
Book blurb as seen on Amazon.com:
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.
The truth is I’m not a big fan of Contemporary. Why would I want to read about the same old stuff that I went through as a teen, or my daughter is going through, or other kids go through. I want epic. I want adventure. I want to be transported to another world. So when I saw this on the New Reads shelf at my library, my hand hesitated ever so slightly before picking it up. Once I read the blurb, I was mildly intrigued, though I would have preferred she had to save the world too. 🙂
Sans world saving, at least give me something to care about, and for the most part Han did that. Lara Jean is a likable and interesting character, though I hated the name. I don’t know why. I like Lara. I like Jean. Put ’em together and I was annoyed. The little sister is precocious and entertaining, which younger kids in books like this usually are, and big sis was a reasonable addition, if not very deep. Dad was barely-there, which I found annoying, but at least he wasn’t a dead-beat or abusive. Mom is dead, which is a big part of the story, but really it wasn’t. The story could have happened mostly the same if Mom had been present. I’m not entirely sure I how I feel about this, since I like it when characters have an “issue”, but the issue isn’t the book. But still, it felt like a not particularly important aspect of the book, though it was made important. I guess the side issue of Mom’s death made everything more complicated and dramatic, but it felt like a device to make everything more complicated and dramatic. Which I find unnecessary.
So even though I felt the missing-mom aspect was a device, I was still invested in the characters. I understood why Margot felt like she had to mother everyone. I felt for Lara Jean in her angst over the boys she crushed on finding out. And I was really hoping Kitty would get that puppy, though there are no dogs allowed in my house.
And of course the writing was pretty good. I’ll share a few of my favorites. These are favorites because they say some pretty typical things in a creative way, which is hard to do:
Kitty answers back lightning fast . . .
I feel a pinch in my heart.
My scalp tingles with gratitude.
So I’ll get the things I didn’t like out of the way. First, the idea that these two young girls, especially the oldest, takes it upon themselves to become mommy of the family when their own mom passes away was a bit of a stretch for me. Maybe it has something to do with their Korean heritage, and I’ll admit I know next to nothing about Korean-Americans, but I think we have to consider that their exposure to the Korean side of their family was portrayed as minor. If the heritage would dictate that pre-teen girls become the women of the house and do the cooking, cleaning, organizing, shopping and scheduling for the family, okay I guess, but where was the influence? Dad is white American. I can’t see my white American husband expecting my kids to take care of each other so he can work long hours. And they never question or complain about it either. Once again it felt like a vehicle to get us from Point A to Point B. Even Korean-American kids raised in this culture would be a little angsty over having to bake cupcakes for their little sister’s PTA event and make sure she gets places on time and know when her field trips are and pack her lunch every day. That’s dad’s job and I was actually appalled at the portrayal of this family as if all of this is completely normal. If it would have been highlighted that this was different (“Hey, Lara Jean! You sure take on a lot of responsibility I don’t have. Glad my mom’s not dead.”) then maybe I could have bought it, but if you think you’re going to make the average American teen feel guilty because they don’t have this load, well, trust me, I’ve tried it. No luck.
And I was less than impressed with that age old trope let’s-pretend-we’re-in-love-so-I-can-make-my-girlfriend/boyfriend-jealous. Yes, I actually have some fake love in my current MS, so it’s a little hypocritical, but this came out of left field for me and I didn’t like it. Okay, so the novel might not have progressed properly if Han didn’t use it, but I would have been more impressed if she found a way to pull it off. Especially when the whole thing starts off because Lara Jean wants to make Josh think she doesn’t like him. Here’s an idea: Tell him you don’t like him. It usually works. Seriously.
Now I’m going to share another few lines from the book I enjoyed, and take you on a tangent. Lara Jean is talking to a gay friend and I love his response:
“I just let people believe what they please. I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to quantify myself for them. I mean, you get what I’m talking about. As a biracial person, I’m sure people are always asking you what race you are, right?”
I haven’t thought of it that way before, but yes yes yes! Lucas just gets it. “Exactly. It’s like, why do you need to know?”
I hate the term “coming out”, though I have used it. And I use it in my current MS. Still, I don’t like the idea that anyone has to “quantify” themselves. Why can’t we just be people and not be defined by our sexual orientation? I won’t rant too long about that, at least not in this post, but I wanted to share that little bit. Also, in regards to heritage and race, I understand that people might find those questions annoying, but do consider if you are biracial or bicultural, that people’s interest may not be in the realm of trying to categorize you. It might be (in the case of my own interest) an effort to understand where you are coming from culturally, and to admire how amazing we humans are when we embrace and share our own cultural experiences. I will never truly know anyone’s cultural experience but my own, yet I want to know as much as I can about other’s experiences so I can learn and grow from that as well.
Moving on. Not withstanding the previously mentioned flaws, I liked this book. It was a heart warming story about a teen girl who grows in her love for her family and learns a bit about herself and what she wants from the love of a boy as well. It is well-written and kept me turning the pages to find out if Lara Jean would develop her unrequited love for Josh, break her sister’s heart, discover something in Peter beside his pretty-boy image or basically screw everything up. I won’t tell you, of course, but I will say I felt the ending to be unsatisfactory. I guess you could say the important things were wrapped up, so I wasn’t horribly disappointed, but I wanted more. And I’ll just leave it at that.
All in all, it was a cute read that wasn’t too sappy and annoying. I was really afraid I would have to read some novel about every day teen problems that aren’t really problems and end up throwing the book against the wall. I guess if there hadn’t been the missing-mom issue, it would have been that kind of book, so I can take that part back. 🙂 Anyway, if you’re looking for a light entertaining read that isn’t total fluff, I’d highly recommend this.
My review: 3/5 stars (Come on! She didn’t even slay dragons or anything!)