Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny HanTo All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on April 15, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 355
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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four-half-stars

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old 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.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of those books that I missed the boat on and then suddenly everyone was freaking out about it and mega-hype-train. At that point, I was really too scared to pick it up, even though I’d bought a copy. Sure, everyone I trust liked it and recommended it, buuuuuuut with all that pressure I was worried we wouldn’t work out. It was weird reading a book I’d actually been somewhat spoiled on, since I usually don’t know much of anything going into books these days. Thankfully, the pressure didn’t really impact my read, and I absolutely fell under Lara Jean’s spell.

To All the Boys isn’t quite like I expected it to be. You pick up shippy things from hype and just overall that people like something, but I didn’t realize how deep this book got. Shippy, I expected, but some really intense family stuff I wasn’t prepared. Intense in a realistic and powerful character arc way, and not in a tragic, scary way. I’d been expecting pure fluff, which is accurate in some ways but it’s also got more meat on its bones. It’s like fluff-plus or something. I need a better term for that.

The family elements are so beautifully done. The three sisters have a tight, loving bond, the kind that you envy. However, I like too that the whole book is actually more about Margot and Lara Jean’s relationship more than it is Lara and Peter K.’s. I really love the complexity of that relationship. They love each other fiercely, but it’s also gone slightly toxic. It’s very fixable, but they have to work on their relationship and take stock. Initially, you see Lara Jean denying that her sister controls her, but, with Margot off at school, it’s so clear that Lara Jean doesn’t really know what to do or how to be. And it’s also clear that, where Margot should be pleased with Lara Jean growing up while she’s gone, she doesn’t like seeing her baby sister not be a baby anymore. I think it’s so important for fiction to show that even loving relationships can have problems and that it’s important to work on them.

Lara Jean’s immature for her age, and I love that actually. I can see where her voice might sound too young, but I found her very authentically teenage. It was actually mega comforting to read about a teen who doesn’t have all her shit together; it made me feel like way more of an actual adult. Plus, Lara Jean really has been allowed to stay more childlike. Margot protected her from a lot, serving as much as a mother figure as a big sister. The way that both Josh and Margot react to Lara Jean’s growth is telling. It’s fascinating too that Margot really tried to take care of their dad too, and, the longer she’s been gone, the more apparent and vocal a parent he is, ultimately supporting everything Lara Jean does independently. It’s subtle but beautifully done.

The only elements I was iffy on were Chris and Genevieve. Chris is ostensibly Lara Jean’s only friend she’s not related to, but they don’t seem to have anything in common and only seem to hang out when Chris is in trouble with her mom. Lara Jean doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about her when she hasn’t randomly showed up. Genevieve so far falls in as a classic mean girl, but I’d love to see more development of that later in the series. It’s not bad, but she’s lacking in dimension and complexity atm.

Somehow, with all the discussion of this, I never knew it was fake dating, which YAS. The letters are such a cool set up, and I like how surprisingly unmelodramatic certain plot elements were. For example, Gen’s revenge wasn’t as monstrously horrible as usually comes from mean girls in fiction. It packs an emotional punch, for sure, but Han didn’t go for any super cheap feels. That said, the end of this book especially is a ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTION. I kept messaging Gillian like “OMG THIS AMAZING THING HAPPENED” and then “EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE NOW” and back in forth for like chapters.

I wasn’t really sold on Peter at first, but he won me over alongside Lara Jean. Okay, he won me over before he won her over, but I like how they establish a friendship that slowly starts morphing. The more they get to know each other, the more they like each other and the more compatible they seem. I also enjoyed the scenes where she hangs out with his friends. It’s another example of how Lara Jean had always been told to feel about certain people by Margot and Josh, but now she’s finding that she actually really likes them. The ending of this book, however, was not okay. I am SO glad that I’m reading this with the full series out, between this ending and what I’ve heard about book two.

I absolutely loved this book, and I’m going to stop writing about it so I can read the next one because this suspense is killing me.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny HanP.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #2
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on May 26, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 337
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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four-half-stars

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Unpopular opinion time here on A Reader of Fictions. P.S. I Still Love You proved divisive. Based on what I’d heard, I was, frankly, terrified of this book. However, with the full series complete, I was determined to binge on through no matter what. And I loved it just as much as To All the Boys I Loved Before. WARNING: Their will be spoilers in the review. Do not read further if you haven’t read P.S. I Love You and do not want to be spoiled on certain plot elements.

Generally, I go into books knowing absolutely nothing, and usually I’m happier that way. I’d been spoiled in advance on the fact that there was a love triangle in this book that basically no one liked. In this case, I think knowing that ahead of time made all the difference. I can absolutely see where I would have loathed having this love triangle sprung on me. You get so much Peter and Lara Jean cuteness before things start to go wrong and John Ambrose really enters as a potential love interest. Not knowing ahead of time, I probably would have hated that to. But I did know, and I was surprised by how much I really liked this love triangle and how well-executed I think it was.

Narratively, though John Ambrose seems to rather conveniently appear from nowhere on a flimsy excuse and to suddenly be very easily accessible, I do actually think getting to know him was crucial for Lara Jean. She went to see him in To All the Boys, and she observed that he was cute but was too scared to actually engage with him. The whole theme of these books so far has been Lara Jean facing her fears and maturing. (My girl can drive now, and I’m so proud of her for that btw.) Getting to know John Ambrose again was important for her, because Josh, Peter and John Ambrose were by far the three crushes she had the biggest feelings for. In fact, I’d say that, in the past, she probably liked John Ambrose more, since her crush on Peter only happened because he kissed her and the feelings for John were organic. She needed to investigate him to close the chapter of the letters and figure out how she really feels about Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter too needed to go through this. There’s a reason that teen relationships are dramatic and might involve being on-again/off-again; they’re trying to figure shit out. Lara Jean’s right, in my opinion, that Peter’s loyalties have been divided. He didn’t cheat, and his feelings for Lara Jean are there, but he does still immediately run to Genevieve’s side if she calls for him, and he will cancel plans with Lara Jean to do it without notice or much apology. Lara Jean tries really hard to be comfortable with their friendship, but he does violate her trust a little bit. They both need to figure out their feelings and priorities and decide if they’re willing to really commit to this relationship. Given the artificial nature of their start, I think the love triangle drama of this book was absolutely essential for them to be able to build a new foundation as a couple, since they had some semi-problematic patterns borne of the habits of their fake relationship.

On top of being emotionally necessary, I think the love triangle really is just well done. John Ambrose is actually a really good option for Lara Jean. They’re definitely a better match than Lara Jean and Peter on paper, and maybe they’re just straight up a better match. If Jenny Han had ship-swapped here, I would have been able to deal with it. That said, I am glad that she chose Peter, because I think he’s really good for her too, in different ways. Both boys are excellent options and appeal to Lara Jean in slightly different ways, which is what makes an excellent love triangle. It can feel a bit pointless, I think, because John Ambrose only loses because Peter got there first, but that’s life really, and I think it’s all beautifully done.

Lara Jean continues to grow in such impressive ways. I continue to love how much like a real teen she feels. For example, I love how everyone keeps trying to push her into thinking about the SATs and internships, and she’s just procrastinating. She does bullshit an idea about working at the retirement home that she loves so much she follows through with it, and it’s such a perfectly Lara Jean thing to do. Fictional teens tend to be highly motivated and have their shit together (heck, I read a middle grade where a sixth grader was taking SAT practice exams on the regular). Lara Jean doesn’t know who she is or what she wants yet, but she’s figuring it out a step at a time. I cheer every time she figures something out. YA has often lost the “coming of age” feel that classic YA that was not YA at the time had, but you can really feel Lara Jean making the slow transition towards adulthood. It’s a beautiful thing.

So there you have it: I loved this book. I stayed up until 2am finishing, and I regret nothing. Hopefully by not spoiler tagging, a few people who haven’t read this yet will learn about the love triangle and love this book as much as I did. That’s all I can hope.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny HanAlways and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #3
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on May 2, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 325
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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four-half-stars

Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

*releases breath I totally knew I was a holding* It is so, so rare for a series to remain consistently high quality, particularly through the series ender. Always and Forever, Lara Jean totally came through. It continues to be vastly realistic, immensely lovable, and cautiously hopeful.

Like the rest of the series, Always and Forever, Lara Jean is a bit stressful to read, because there are all of these looming bad choices on the horizon. Thankfully, Lara Jean mostly makes good decisions. Sometimes she does flirt with the bad ones, but when she thinks things through she always comes to the better choice (imo). I know I’ll love this whole series even more on future rereads, because I’ll know what’s coming and can just enjoy the cuteness, rather than worrying about impending doom. So, breathe easy, my friends.

Almost a year has passed since P.S. I Still Love You, which threw me for a bit of a loop, but I do get why Han made that decision. Lara Jean has evolved a bit during that time (facing up to college plans, for example), but, for the most part, it wasn’t a big period of emotional transition for her. As she comes up on college acceptances (or rejections) and faces the idea of maybe possibly ending up at a different school from Peter, Lara Jean’s in another phase of emotional pain and growth. She’s really starting to transition into adulthood, and it’s amazing how far she’s come from the Lara Jean of the first book. She’s so much more confident and self-assured, and she no longer leans on others quite so hard to make decisions (though she still solicits help when she needs it).

Peter and Lara Jean are so freaking cute in this book. They fight, like all real couples do, and their relationship very much experiences growing pains. Han does what I wish more authors would do: she shows a couple that’s solidly together working through the issues that come up. It is possible to write a couple that’s together and keep them dynamic, interesting, and shippable; it’s just hard, much like instalove. They have come so far from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and I absolutely love the balance Han struck with the ending: it’s not quite an HEA, but there’s hope there, which seems just right as they head off to college.

Another big aspect of their relationship I really, really love is that Han depicts a non-standard relationship. Peter and Lara Jean still aren’t having sex, and he doesn’t pressure her about it at all. I was so afraid this would turn into a horrible Michael-in-college-Princess-Diaries situation, but it really doesn’t. He’s completely respectful of her boundaries and willing to wait. Peter’s the sweetest little cinnamon roll tbh. You get to see a lot more of his emotional side in Always and Forever, and you will want to give him all the hugs.

My only complaints are that Margot is deeply annoying in this book. All three girls wanted their dad to date again, and Margot’s such a stinker now that he’s in a serious relationship. It’s a totally realistic thing, but I wanted to slap duct tape over her mouth in basically every scene. I just wish there’d been more good moments with Margot, but she’s pretty much just around being irritating in this one. On the plus side, there’s one mostly relaxed meeting with Genevieve, so at least there’s finally a view of them getting out of that girl rivalry over Peter; they’re both moving onto college, and high school doesn’t matter anymore. There’s a parting insult, but hey it’s better than it’s been before; I still would have liked more evolution from that relationship, but this may be more realistic.

I loved this series so completely much, and I absolutely need a spinoff about Kitty when she’s older (unless it would shit on my ship). Think of all the shenanigans Kitty would get up to!

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

2 responses to “Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han”

  1. I’m so happy when I see someone else who loved the second book as well! It definitely was divisive haha. Lara Jean matures in such a real way. I loved every book in this one too

    • Christina Franke says:

      Perhaps if I’d read them as they came out, unspoiled about the fact that there would be a love triangle, I wouldn’t have, but I did know all of that. Peter K and Lara Jean definitely weren’t emotionally in the place they needed to be for a real relationship at the end of book two.

      And, for all that John Ambrose comes a little bit out of left field, Peter K very much was not done with his ex yet, and this book would have been torturous if it had just been about that, with Lara Jean feeling sad/jealous. This added a nice balance.

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