In one of the rare instances of me reading a book AFTER watching the movie, I finally got to (my sister’s copy of) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before this summer — after watching the Netflix adaptation several more times than a 33 year old woman really ought to. I know we were all lusting after Noah Centineo (who, yes, is adorable), but I’ve had a crush on John Corbett since high school so watching him be a doting widowed daddy to a bunch of cutie pie girls was right up my alley. All of this to say…the movie was definitely forefront in my mind while reading the book, and it was hard to separate the characters from their on-screen portrayals. But I definitely enjoyed all three of these (read one right after the other, frequently in the bathtub) and look forward to Netflix adapting the second and third novel.
Up first: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. To those of you who somehow missed it: Lara Jean, the sweet middle child of three, is a girl who falls hard for boys– but never has the courage to actually speak to them. So instead, she deals with her crushes in an emotionally healthy way: she writes them a letter confessing her love, and then stashes that letter in a hat box in her room. Like you do. The hat box contains 5 letters…until one day it doesn’t. The letters all mysteriously mailed to their subjects (spoiler: it was her little sister, it’s always the little sister) and Lara Jean is confronted by two of the boys immediately. One is her sister’s ex-boyfriend. The other is a jerk at school (Peter). In an effort to seem less obsessed with her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Lara Jean agrees to date Peter to make his girlfriend jealous. Of course, in the way such things go, she ends up falling for him.
“It feels strange to have spen much time wishing for something, for someone and then one day, suddenly,to just stop”
In the second book, P.S. I Still Love You, Lara Jean realizes how strongly she feels for Peter and they start dating. The main conflict in this novel arises after a video of Lara Jean and Peter kissing in a hot tub gets spread around the school. Lara Jean blames Peter’s ex-girlfriend, and gets upset when he defends her. She also rekindles a friendship with another boy she originally wrote letters to, John Ambrose McClaren. This book is full of teenage jealousy and hormones and misunderstandings and all of those great aspects of a young adult novel. I really think my favorite part is the introduction of the Assassin’s game, which pitts Lara Jean and Peter against each other and their friends. I also love her relationship with Stormy, a sweet older woman she visits in a nursing home. Stormy becomes Lara Jean’s confident when it comes to matters of the heart, and she’s quite a character.
“There’s a Korean word my grandma taught me. It’s called jung. It’s the connection between two people that can’t be severed, even when love turns to hate. You still have those old feelings for them; you can’t ever completely shake them loose of you; you will always have tenderness in your heart for them.”
In the final book (Always and Forever, Lara Jean), Lara Jean and Peter are officially a couple. High school’s wrapping up and another staple of young adult novels comes into play: college. Are we going to follow our boyfriend to college, or strike out on our own? Lara Jean originally planned to go to UVA with Peter, but after getting rejected, she has to decide what happens next. We also see changes at home, when her father announces that he’s going to marry their neighbor (Trina). Lara Jean’s sister Margot returns from Scotland with a new boyfriend and a pissed off attitude about Trina. Lara Jean navigates a lot of adult decisions here, from her choices regarding college to her balancing her sister’s dislike for Trina against their father’s love for his new fiance. She and Peter also get close to having sex, which is something that had not really been brought up in the books before.
These books are just so cute y’all. They are sweet and funny and I just want to scoop up all three Song girls and give them hugs. I love how much their mother’s Korean culture is woven throughout the books. I also really like the strong bonds she has with her sisters, bonds that are tested several times throughout the book but never broken. It is hard not to root for a character like Lara Jean. The plot of these three novels, other than the original device of the letters getting sent out, really follows a lot of the topics that YA novels typically hit. Conflicts with family, jealousy in relationships, the prospect of college, big decisions regarding life and sex and love. Throughout it all, Lara Jean is just such a great main character. She’s smart and funny and very complicated. Her family unit is tight but flawed, just like anyone’s. I found myself wanting to spend more time with her just to see what she was going to do next. These books are so sweet and definitely something I could see myself revisiting .