Friday, September 23, 2016

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Image result for to all the boys i've loved beforeLara Jean is a girl who enjoys the simple, comfortable life. Her best friends are her sisters, Kitty and Margot, and Margot’s boyfriend, Josh. But Margot is off to Scotland for university and – to Lara Jean’s amazement – breaks up with Josh before leaving.

The break-up prompts Lara Jean to admit to herself that she might have feelings for Josh. She thought she got over him when he and Margot started dating, but apparently not. As she finds herself attracted to him again, she tries to force away her feelings the same way she has gotten over every crush she’s ever had – by writing him a letter and hiding it in the hatbox under her bed. Lara Jean’s letters contain all the thoughts and feelings she never dares say to the boys she’s loved, and by writing them, she finds herself able to move on.

Then on the first day of Junior year, her middle school crush, Peter, walks up to her with a few questions. Questions about a letter he claims she mailed him. A letter, Lara Jean realizes, she wrote him back at the end of Eighth Grade.

The hatbox is missing. The letters were mailed, including the one to Josh. And Lara Jean’s simple life is about to get far less comfortable.

What Makes It So Good

I feel like I recommend a lot of dark, gruesome stuff on this blog. Books with flesh-eating horses and mutated dog-men and haunted grave diggers and Hitler. So let’s celebrate something different today!

This book is fluffy and cute and sweet and wonderful. The loveliness starts with Lara Jean herself, who is charming and neurotically teenaged all at once. She’s the kind of girl who does well in school, not because she’s a tortured genius, but because doing well in things matters to her. She’s not in the popular crowd, not because she’s hopelessly uncool or outcast, but because she’s a bit of a homebody and would rather be baking cookies than partying. Watching her step outside her comfort zone and grow up is so satisfying. Her arc is one of a girl who gradually realizes she wants more out of life, but who also hangs on to her goodness and sweetness, knowing those are part of who she essentially is.

Jenny Han is great at making you care about the things Lara Jean cares about – her sisters, her single father, whether or not she should include pictures of Josh in the scrapbook she’s making for Margot. She’s funny in her simple obsessions. And the relationship drama that falls out of her letters getting mailed also feels authentic. More often than not, its humorous rather than overwrought and her reactions are very relatable. I know of a lot of highschoolers that live more in a world of imaginary romances than real ones, and Lara Jean is clearly more comfortable with the imaginary.

But of course, this book wouldn’t be complete without the eponymous “boys she loved before” and here again, the book hits a home run. Most of the drama focuses on two of the boys. Josh, who still belongs to Margot in Lara Jean’s head, and Peter, who can’t help getting involved because he finds this whole fiasco hilarious. Of course there’s a love triangle, but Han doesn’t sink too much angst into it and by the end of the book, you’re pretty firmly steered in favor of Lara Jean’s decision.

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a romance this much. If you’re looking for a light read, but don’t want to sacrifice characterization or theme, I highly recommend this book.

What Could Make It Better

So… let’s not beat around the bush. The premise is pretty contrived. The letter writing itself seems like something a girl would do, but the letters getting mysteriously mailed out? Lara Jean, this is why you DO NOT write addresses on letters you don’t actually want mailed!

And this isn’t the only contrived, rom-com level trope this book employs. There are quite a few, though I won’t detail them all for fear of giving away the entire plot. What Han excels at is making these tropes seem relatable again, but they are there in full force. If you hate this sort of thing, you may still hate it here, but you might find yourself liking it. Maybe you were just waiting for proper execution.

If you think of this book as a rom-com, most of the tropes are easy to swallow. All romantic comedies have some kind of quirky premise that is meant to make a story stick out from the pack. Maybe there’s a man in a coma. Maybe there’s a woman writing an article about How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. I’m not one to fault a book for using a catchy, contrived premise. To me, it’s what it does with it. And over all, I was satisfied with how Han told her story.

This book is also what you might call “very highschool.” I can’t imagine encountering the same problems Lara Jean faces in university, let alone during actual adulthood. It appealed more to my inner sixteen-year-old far more than it resonated with my current emotional state. But again, I don’t think that’s a fault. A lot of YA feels written for an older audience, whereas this book definitely focuses on the hopes and dreams of teenagers. But it might be a turn-off to some readers.

Overall, I’d urge you to give this book a try, especially if you’re in the mood for something happy and light. It’s a fantastic pick-me-up.

P.S. There is a poll in the upper right hand corner!!!

Did you know I am obsessed with polls? WELL NOW YOU DO! Right now I'm trying to get an idea of what people like reading on the blog, so that I can hopefully provide more of it. So click all the things you like! Multiple answers are allowed. And if you have any questions/suggestions, sound off in the comments! Love you guys! :)

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