book review

Book review: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Jenny Han. Scholastic Fiction. August 2014.

Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. One for every boy she’s ever loved. The letters are for her eyes only. Until the day they are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.


I bought a copy of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before last year, but it took me a while to pick it up again because for some reason I never seemed to be in the mood to read it. The other day, I was having an I’M-SO-EXHAUSTED-I-CAN’T-COPE kind of an evening, and I decided to give this one a try. There are certain genres I just can’t read when I’m tired – I can’t cope with fantasy or thrillers, for example, because action gets my heart going and I can’t be dealing with that when I’m sleepy. All I want when I’m THAT tired is a nice, light, fluffy book with a cute romantic storyline – luckily, this book gave me EXACTLY what I needed.

First of all, just to set the record straight, when I say this book was fluffy, I don’t mean that it’s trashy – in fact, the writing in this book was excellent; all of the observations about people and relationships were on point, and the characters felt like real and complex people. My only slight issue where characters were concerned was actually with Lara Jean’s voice, which for me came across as a lot younger than her character was supposed to be. I think this was partly down to her naivety – having always relied on her sister Margot to be the responsible and mature one, Lara Jean finds herself having to fill that role for her younger sister Kitty when Margot moves to Scotland to attend university, but Lara Jean has so much still to learn. The other reason was that she referred to her parents as ‘daddy’ and ‘mummy’. In my experience, older teenagers don’t tend to do that, but I appreciate everyone has different ways of speaking and preferences for what they call their family members.

I loved the way sibling relationships were portrayed in this novel, because I feel family dynamics are often pushed aside in YA, unless the story is focusing on dysfunctional relationships. It was refreshing to see such a close-knit family, and a total homebird of a protagonist who’d rather spend Friday night baking with her little sister than out drinking at a party. As I’m somebody who gets excited by cancelled plans and who definitely prefers pajamas to parties, I totally related to Lara Jean, and her need for the comforts of home.

Lara Jean’s dad was a sweetie, and I loved the way he tried to be both mum and dad to the girls (who lost their mum when they were younger), and how he attempted to keep the girls in touch with their Korean heritage (from their mother’s side of the family) by cooking traditional Korean food, even if his Domestic Goddess skills weren’t entirely up to scratch… It’s the thought that counts!

I wasn’t a huge fan of Margot (she was so patronising and unreasonable at times), but I found the dynamic between her and Lara Jean interesting, especially seeing the strain being separated by oceans and time-zones put on their relationship. On the flip side, I ADORED Kitty. She was a total smartarse kind of kid, but so funny. I loved her determination to persuade her dad to buy her a puppy for Christmas, and her hilariously unsubtle hints.

In terms of the plot, although the storyline was a little predictable, it was exactly what I was hoping for. The main plot thread follows the aftermath of Lara Jean’s letters being mailed out to all the boy’s she’s loved before. Rather than ‘love letters’ as such, Lara Jean’s notes are more like ‘goodbye’ letters which she writes for cathartic purposes when she’s decided she needs to get over the person she’s writing to and move on. When her letters are found and mailed out to their rightful recipients (by a mystery person we don’t find out the identity of until the end of the novel), one of them ends up in the hands of Josh (her sister’s ex boyfriend who she’s definitely not supposed to have feelings for.) Another falls into the lap of Peter Kavinsky, the first boy Lara Jean ever kissed, whom she was friends with in childhood but hasn’t spoken to in years (aside from one-sidedly in the goodbye-I’m-over-you letter she wrote to him several years ago with no intention of actually sending):

“Dear Peter K.

First of all I refuse to call you Kavinsky. You think you’re so cool, going by your last name all of a sudden. Just so you know, Kavinsky sounds like the name of an old man with a long white beard.

Did you know that when you kissed me, I would come to love you?”

FYI, Lara Jean’s letter then goes on to list all of Peter’s worst qualities, including always taking the last slice of pizza (Peter and I definitely do not have that in common… ahem…), so it’s all kinds of embarrassing for Lara Jean when he confronts her about the weird letter she appears to have sent him out of the blue. As you might have guessed though, it’s a million times more awkward when she has to face Josh, whom she may or may not still have unresolved feelings for.

Peter has recently broken up with his girlfriend Genevieve, a manipulative and possessive girl who’ll do anything to get him back, and Lara Jean wants to save face in front of Josh and convince him she no longer feels the things she wrote in her letter, so in a mutually beneficial arrangement, Peter and Lara Jean embark upon a ‘pretend’ relationship… The more time they spend together, the less ‘pretend’ their feelings for each other become. But can Peter cut ties with Genevieve once and for all? And can Lara Jean let go of her fear of having a real relationship for the first time – one where she actually has to acknowledge her feelings for a boy out loud instead of pouring them out onto a piece of lined letter-paper she never intends him to see?

The romance in this story was adorable, and although there were other people standing in the way of Peter and Lara Jean having a ‘real’ relationship, I never felt like I was reading a ‘love triangle’ scenario as such. That being said, I was totally Team Peter. To begin with, Lara Jean saw Peter as the stereotypical popular guy, but I loved the fact that he proved her wrong – there was more to him than met the eye. I loved the way he charmed her little sister Kitty – the scenes where Peter spent time with Lara Jean’s family were my favourite. It wasn’t hard to see why Lara Jean found herself totally won over by him.

“Hey, what’s your name?” Peter asks her.

Kitty hesitates. More and more this happens. With new people she has to decide if she’ll be Kitty of Katherine.

“Katherine.”

“But everyone calls you Kitty?”

“Everyone who knows me,” Kitty says. “You can call me Katherine.”

Peter’s eyes light up. “You’re tough,” he says admiringly, which Kitty ignores, but she keeps sneaking peeks at him. He has that effect on people.

Although I mentioned that the plot was somewhat predictable, the book does actually end on a mild cliffhanger, which was refreshing. A certain ending was implied, but it wasn’t outright confirmed, and I liked that things weren’t fully resolved, cookie-cutter stylee. I downloaded the second book, P.S. I Still Love You, because I really wanted to find out what came next for all the characters. I probably won’t have time to review book two, but I will say now that I loved it just as much as this one, and Kitty stole the show because she was just hilarious in every scene.

If you’re looking for a cosy comfort-read after a busy week – one with loveable characters, and a warm-and-fuzzy romance you can’t help but root for – you absolutely need this book in your life.

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