Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

I picked up Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before for several reasons.  First, I loved her Summer trilogy (The Summer I Turned Pretty, It's Not Summer Without You, and We'll Always Have Summer)--even though I was somewhat conflicted on the entire third book.

Secondly, All the Boys has been receiving some major hype of its own.  It was named to both Epic Reads' Book Shimmy Awards Nominees list AND Goodreads' Choice Awards Best Young Adult Contemporary list this year.  So that combination definitely says it's something I should take notice of.

Thirdly, I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the plot.  High school junior Lara Jean has an interesting way of getting over her crushes: she writes them a letter, in which she discloses her deepest feelings for them.  Then she seals the letter, addresses it, and hides it in a old hatbox in her closet.  And then she's over them, for good.  She says it's kind of like an exorcism.  She has done this five times, with complete success each time.  And I have to admit, when faced with the premise of this plot, that perhaps my high school self could have taken a lesson from Lara Jean.  I had a few too many unhealthy lingering crushes.  Wouldn't it have been great to just put them to rest and move on like that?  So much healthier.

(Warning: spoilery ensues from this point on.)

But apparently not.  Because somehow, a few chapters into the book, Lara Jean's old letters, dating all the way back to seventh grade, inadvertently get mailed.  And chaos erupts.  Because obviously, these guys want to know why on earth she would say these things to them, especially after so much time had passed.  And there's one guy in particular (Josh) that she REALLY never wanted to find out that she had feelings for him.... because he happens to be one of her very best friends AND her older sister's ex-boyfriend.

This is where the book begins to feel an awful lot like the Summer trilogy, except in reverse.  Instead of one girl in love with two brothers, we have one boy in love with two sisters.  And there's just no good way that it can end.  Except that in this case, Lara Jean realizes that there's no good way it can end.  So she decides that OBVIOUSLY, the REASONABLE thing to do is to PRETEND to be dating someone else to avoid all awkwardness.  Thus leading her into a book-long fake relationship with another one of the recipients of her letters (Peter).

The problem is that I, and I'm going to guess many readers of this book and lovers of the Summer trilogy, were secretly rooting for a similar result, where the sibling thing was somehow smoothed over, because obviously Lara Jean and Josh were so, so right for each other.  And that even though we were beaten over the head for the entire book by the fact that Peter was Not What He Seems Like and that he Really Was A Decent Guy, I just couldn't get over being sad for Josh.  First he lost Margot (which frankly, I didn't think seemed like that big of a loss--we never actually saw them together, so it was hard to work up much emotion over them), but then, worse, he lost the entire Covey family.  And he told Lara Jean that she was all that kept him hanging on, and that was when they were still just FRIENDS, before he even got the letter, and then she just ditched him.  And he's eating lunch alone, for cripes sake.

And he's just so good to Lara Jean through the whole book.  And okay, even if she never dates him, she's really just a craptastic friend.  Not to mention a craptastic sister to Margot.  She spends the entire book talking about how she loves Margot and just can't survive without her, yet they don't have a single authentic conversation the entire time that Margot is away at college, and as far as I can tell, that's way more on Lara Jean than on Margot.

Furthermore, Lara Jean somehow decides that she actually does like Peter.  Okay, whatever.  I get it.  We've all made bad romantic choices.  Particularly during the high school years.  Seems a little stupid of her after her whole soapbox about Josh, "If he were mine, I would never have let him go," and then she oh wait, she lets him go... but whatever.  What really gets me is that for the entire book she is pretty sure that Peter is "cheating" on her with Gen.  All the evidence points to this fact.  Gen basically tells her that its true.  Peters tells her that she can never ask him to give up Gen.  And okay, I get that they're in a fake relationship.  (Which, after a while, I lost the point of.  She had worked things out with Josh.  Josh wanted to be with her.  Obviously he bought the lie.  So why was she keeping it up?  And if Peter's goal was to convince Gen to want him, and she was hooking up with him, the job well done.  So why were they doing this again???)  But if they're then deciding to date for real, and Gen is being evil to Lara Jean, shouldn't they at least DISCUSS that hey, hooking up with Gen is now off the table??  Because that's a pretty crappy precedent to set.  Just saying.

Okay, enough with the rant.

Because I actually DID like this book.  I read it all in one day.  And even if I think that Lara Jean made poor romantic decisions, I found her to be delightfully quirky (though she would probably be mad at me for saying that).  What's more, I loved the entire Covey family, especially Kitty.  She was just such an awesome little sister.  I don't think that YA has nearly enough awesome younger siblings.  Far too often, they're just throwaway characters.  But Kitty was so full of life and personality.  She really made the story.

I also really like how Jenny Han weaves the past so neatly in with the present in her books.  There are several authors I admire that do this well, and she is definitely one of them.  This was a trait that really strengthened both All the Boys and the Summer trilogy.

I also have to admit that much of my frustration with this book was greatly alleviated when I hopped on Goodreads to mark it as "read" and realized that there's a sequel coming out next year.  So the end of this book is not the final word on Lara Jean's love life, which is frankly a relief to me.

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