Book Review – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han


Buy To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Amazon.com
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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)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1442426705
ISBN-13: 978-1442426702
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!)

Trials and tribulations of a bookworm . . .

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Finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone last night. Stayed up late to do it. I just couldn’t put it down! Book review coming soon. Couldn’t wait for morning so I could hop over to the library and snag the sequel before we headed to Detroit again. 4 hours in the car = lots of reading time! But when I moved some things on the counter, I found another book! Since it’s from the library, I have to read it first. It’s the bookworm code. You never keep a library book longer than you have to! So I guess I’ll be reading Origins first. Maybe I’ll get to that stack of books I own eventually too!

What Do YA Readers Want? – Data

22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums. This is the data.

The responses are organized and tallied as close as possible into pertinent categories with relevant subheadings. If a response has two numbers, the first is from the teen respondent group. If it has only one number, it could be from either group. If it has no number then it is either just a heading that no one specifically requested, or only one person requested it. Though I put things in my words for clarity, sometimes I used the respondents exact words. You should be able to tell!

Check out my post What Do YA Readers WANT?!! where I discuss the results.

22 Teen Respondents + 40 Unidentified Respondents

  • POV
    • Male (2) + (3) = 5
    • Multiple POVs (1) + (4) = 5Less first person POV (3)
      • Third person with multi POVs (4)
    • No series where each book is from a different person’s POV
  • ROMANCE – (Existence of, not genre)
    • Tired of Romance or less romance (7) + (9) = 16
      • More topics about things kids deal with
      • Sexual uncertainty and ambiguity
      • Characters embrace singularity
      • Tired of great stories being steamrolled by romance
    • LGBTQ+ Romance (4)
      • Not just 2 guys: explore other couple dynamics (2)
    • Less or no love triangles (5) + (6) = 11
      • Unless done well
      • At least change 2 boys after one girl formula
      • Don’t have girl end up with the guy who treated her like dirt
      • Make MC be the one who is chosen, not the chooser
    • Real love triangles with LGBTQ+ characters
      • a likes b, but b likes c, and c likes a
    • Clean Romance
    • Healthy teen love relationships (3) + (6) = 9
      • Romance done well w/ a slow build and deep commitment (2)
      • No abusive relationships with happy ending
    • Less “one true” or “insta” love (11)
      • See relationships fail
      • Be happy alone
      • Romances that don’t have happy ending
      • Relationships that end mutually
      • Stories where you learn from failed romance
      • Accepting flaws in partner and learning to live w/ problems
    • Books without romance, or at least where lack of romance isn’t central issue (2)
    • More romance
    • No more romances between “good girl” and paranormal “bad boy” (2)
      • At least reverse the cliché
    • Less glorified first kiss, first time having sex, etc.
    • YA satire of teens and their multiple forever-love affairs
  • DIVERSITY
    • Diversity in general (9) + (3) = 12
      • All forms
      • Not secondary characters
      • Asian or half-Asian
      • Help those of us who don’t care about seeing diversity have an opportunity to see it
      • Chronically ill
      • Physically disabled
    • LGBTQ+ Characters (4) + (5)
      • Romance
      • Explore all kinds of orientation
      • Question sexuality and don’t necessarily resolve by end of book
      • Gay older mentor characters shouldn’t be stereotypical
      • Friendships between LGBTQ+ characters and also straight characters
      • Asexual characters
      • Honest-to-God Lesbians
    • LGBTQ+ Series
    • No diversity issues (8) + (8) = 16
    • Characters w/ diverse hobbies
    • Diverse group of misfits
    • Ethnic Americans living their culture (5)
      • Contemporary stories
      • Futuristic stories (2)
      • Afrotruism (3)
    • Diverse authors writing about their own culture
    • Characters of color where color is not the issue (4)
    • Translations of international YA books
    • Characters with disabilities (2)
      • Disability not the issue
    • Neuro-diversity (2)
      • Important to character development but not the issue of the novel
      • Like Carrie in Homeland – bipolar, but not the story
  • CHARACTERS
    • Detailed character descriptions – paint a picture
    • Female
      • Smart nerdy girl who gets the hot guy
      • Diversity in female fantasy characters
      • Believable females – not always kick-ass, can be weak, intelligent, have to deal w/ emotions, solve problems w/ intelligence not brawn
      • Strong female characters (4)
        • Bad-ass girly girls like Buffy (2)
    • Well developed characters
    • White characters should get sunburned
    • More anti-heroes who carve their own way to hell (2) + (3) = 5
      • Morally ambiguous
      • POV of antagonist
      • Don Draper
      • Walter White
      • Also females
      • Use chessmaster skills to achieve their means
    • Homeless characters in a big city
    • Books from POV of toddler
    • Families (4) + (12) = 16
      • Big families (2)
      • Present parents (1) + (5) = 6
      • Healthy family units
      • Quirky/original family dynamics (3)
      • Rich, complicated sibling dynamics
      • Relationships focused on friends/siblings/parents not LI (4)
    • Characters who step out of their bubble
    • Large cast of characters with secondary characters we care about (7)
      • Quirky secondary characters
      • No more lame secondary characters who only exist to highlight MCs perfections/purity (2)
    • Fewer quirky characters who only like media from past generations
    • Quirky fun characters
    • Characters who learn from mistakes; especially communication
    • Complex adults – less stock or cardboard adult characters
    • Less sarcasm, snark and characters who try too hard to be funny
    • Less “chosen ones” in stories that don’t follow the structure
    • Less angst ridden orphans with black hair
    • Characters from the southern United States
    • Normal, likable religious characters who are not hypocritical
    • Kind-hearted/nice/benevolent rich/privileged protagonists
    • Characters who aren’t rich or privileged
  • PLOT
    • No books w/ open endings
    • Tired of MC has to change the world
    • Plot like National Treasure where unconnected clues lead to big finale
    • Less commercially viable formulas and more unexpected (3)
      • MG quirkiness
      • Unpredictable plot twists
    • Well researched and not cliched or stereotypical
    • Road trip stories
    • Realistic deaths
    • Less characters being confronted by overwhelming odds only to be saved by someone else at the last second
    • Deal with social topics (4)
      • Politics
      • Ethics
      • Religion
      • Real issues that aren’t afraid to be dark
      • Male POV
      • Characters who suffer from slut-shaming and bullying is actually addressed (2)
        • Victim responds by becoming successful and moving on
    • Less depressing books (4)
      • No grief/suicide as main issue (2)
    • Optimistic fun adventures (2)
    • Family as main emotional stake (2)
    • Plot driven books with twists and turns (2)
    • No megacorp/government bad guys and resistance good guys (6)
      • or reverse it, how about average citizen comes in conflict with more than one-note government
    • Unpredictable twists, especially in mysteries and thrillers
    • No more mean girls/bullies against MC (2)
  • SETTINGS
    • Unusual settings (2)
    • Locations other than U.S. (1) + (6) = 7Settings in the southern United States
      • Obscure countries
      • Coming of age stories in obscure countries
      • Stories about people of different cultures in those cultures
      • Scotland
      • Asian location with Asian characters
    • Vivid settings that pay close attention to details (2)
      • Not average American town with no distinguishing features
  • GENRE
    • Fantasy (9) + (12) = 21
      • LOTR
      • Dragons
      • LGBTQ+ (2)
      • Sea stories
      • Diversity (2) + (2) = 4
        • Non-white MC
      • High/epic (1) + (2) = 3
      • Mermaids (1) + (1) = 2
      • No vampires
      • Non-Greek/Roman mythology (2) + (1) = 3
      • Egyptian mythology
      • Celtic Mythology
      • Non-western mythologies
        • Japanese
        • Chinese
      • More books like SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series
      • More Arthurian legend books like Gerald Morris’
      • Second world fantasy with well-constructed world
      • Not medieval England-like setting (2)
      • Diverse Settings
      • Multiversal
      • Powerful female characters
      • Cool magic systems (3)
      • No more steampunk
      • Lady pirates (could be historical fiction too)
      • No more fantasy or speculative fiction
    • Magical Realism and Paranormal
      • Cool magic systems (3)
      • Less paranormal
      • New paranormal beings besides vampires, werewolves, angels, etc.
      • Less realism and more surrealism – cross-over contemporary with paranormal (2)
      • Less supernatural academies
      • Urban Fantasies (2)
        • Settings other than NY
        • Settings in Europe other than Victorian London
        • Everything but the kitchen sink – not just one supernatural being
    • Science Fiction (4) + (6) = 10
      • Pure sci-fi
      • Cyborgs & robots (1) + (1) = 2
        • Giant robots
      • LGBTQ+
      • Diversity of all kinds
      • Not dystopia (1) + (2) = 3
      • Space opera (2)
      • Diverse Settings
      • Multi-planet, plane or dimension
      • Fun adventures where science and technology are desirable, not the bad guy
      • High powered settings with flashy powerful magic or technology
    • Contemporary (2)
      • More books like John Green’s
      • More books like WONDER
      • Less issue books
      • Realistic summer camps
      • Less John Green clones
      • Less Eleanor & Park clones
      • No more contemporaries based on a big secret that’s revealed later in book
    • Dystopia (2) + (7) = 9
      • No or less dystopia (1) + (4) = 5
        • Especially post-apocalyptic cliche
      • LGBTQ+ especially w/ romance subplot
      • Well-constructed worlds that pass logic test
      • Outside U.S. Settings
      • Move away from tropes and cliches (2)
        • Controlling government
        • Ceremony signaling adulthood at beginning
        • One-not government tyranny (love outlawed or something)
        • Use other forms of dystopian
    • Re-tellings (10)
      • Fairy Tale (5) + (1) = 6
        • Non-typical fairy tales (2)
      • Shakespeare (2)
      • Classic literature
      • Mash ups (2)
      • Anne of Green Gables
    • Historical Fiction (7) + (1) = 8
      • Based on an event, not romance
      • French Revolution
      • Braveheart
      • Asia
      • LGBTQ+ (2)
      • Diversity of all kinds
      • Historical mixed with fantasy/immortality/time travel
      • Fiction books on The Monuments men and how they recovered the art
      • All kinds
      • Include 20th century
      • More 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and centered around music
    • Mysteries (6) + (4) = 10Post-apocalyptic
      • Agatha Christie (2)
      • Dorothy Sayers
      • Irene Hannon
      • Dee Henderson
      • Prolific
      • Teen detectives that aren’t Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys
    • Thriller/Suspense/Espionage (3)
      • YA books similar to Tom Clancy’s books
      • More Ian Fleming/John Gardner type James Bond (less girls, more guns)
      • Books like those written by Jill Patton Walsh (detective?)
    • Horror (2)
      • Contemporary
      • Psychological
    • Creative genres (1) + (1) = 2Alternate histories
      • mix it up with sub genres
      • Don’t just stick to establishment
      • Like Grasshopper Jungle
    • Classics (2)
      • Oscar Wilde
    • Literary
      • Books that focus on word craft like Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower
      • Not purple prose
  • RANDOM
    • Fan Fic/Books by friends/Books by me (4)
    • More series (2)
    • More humor (4) + (1) = 5The last of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books
      • Hitchhiker’s Guide
      • Clean
      • Subtle and intelligent
      • Absurdist but meaningful
      • Puns
    • Groundbreaking books
    • YA with illustrations like Miss Peregrine’s
    • Scrafy in the Middle
    • A YA novel/series akin to Welcome to Night Vale Podcast series
    • Stand alones
    • Stories influenced by anime/manga
    • No clones of anything already big
    • Unique format like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, or Lover’s Dictionary
    • Originality
    • Weirdness/ambiguity

I have a problem . . .

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Despite the fact that I am reading THE SHADE OF THE MOON on my kindle (that orange thing on top), and that I want to re-read my childhood copy of THE HOBBIT, and I’ve never read LOTR which my son received for Christmas (not pictured), and he’s been bugging me to read the entire MAZE RUNNER series which he owns, (also not pictured), and I still have UNWHOLLY to read as well as a copy of COLD MOUNTAIN I picked up for a quarter at a garage sale (who can resist?), I still walked out of the library with THREE more books! And I only went in there for MAGIC TREEHOUSE books for Minion #3. I seriously have a problem. It’s like a disease!

Does anyone else have the fortitude to walk out of a library or bookstore empty-handed? I sure don’t.

Your Bookshelf Doesn’t Look Like America*

I hate to see the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign end with only one month devoted to it, so I’m reblogging this excellent article. I’m a fact and numbers person, and the numbers don’t lie! My favorite line was “Equally as important as providing a plethora of lovable characters that kids of color can relate to is preventing white kids from growing up to be participating oppressors in a broken system.”

You're gonna need a bigger book

“The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions,” says Christopher Myers in his New York Timesarticle from March 2014, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” He couldn’t have written a more understated, nor more damning sentence. Big publishers’ mission statements are full of platitudes and lofty ideals about diversity that have yet to translate into actual, measurable change.

In 2013, just 253 of 3200, or 8%, of published children’s books starred protagonists of color. To those defensively insisting, “It’ll get better! Change takes time!”—sit down. It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. In 2008, for example, the number sat at 13%; in 2010, 9%. Even when children’s books featuring non-human protagonists are excluded from consideration, the percentage only goes up slightly to around 10.8% for 2013. This number is ridiculously low, given that in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that non-white children actually make up…

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