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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'To All The Boy's I've Loved Before' by Jenny Han



From the BLURB:

LARA JEAN 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.

When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say 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.

The Covey family are extremely close, especially since the death of their mother a few years ago. Now it’s dad and his three Song girls (their Korean mother’s maiden name) – youngest is Kitty, middle is Lara Jean and eldest Margot keeps the family in line. But when Margot leaves for her first year of college in Scotland, the family are thrown into upheaval. Not least because before leaving home, Margot breaks up with her beloved boyfriend Josh who lives next door and has become so much apart of their family.

Now it’s up to Lara Jean to keep their daddy and Kitty in line, to be the responsible oldest sister. But it’s hard when everyone has depended on Margot for so long, and when Josh’s new single status has Lara Jean remembering that she liked him first, but stepped aside when he admitted his feelings for Margot.

Life becomes complicated when some private letters of Lara Jean’s are mysteriously sent – worse yet, they’re love letters. Lara Jean wrote five letters to the five boys she has loved (from afar) in her life. Josh is one of them, and in the fallout she can barely stand to be around him. Another is Peter Kavinsky – the most handsome boy in school who stole Lara Jean’s first kiss, and has since been linked to her former friend (now frenemy) Genevieve ever since.

When Peter reads his letter he’s both insulted and insulting – telling Lara Jean that while she’s “cute, in a quirky way” he’s not interested in her. But when Lara Jean and Josh’s relationship becomes even more strained by her secret, and Genevieve dumps Peter for an older boy, the two of them come up with a plan to fake a relationship and try to make their respective crushes/ex’s jealous.

‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is the new contemporary young adult novel from YA queen, Jenny Han. It’s the first in a duology, with ‘P.S. I Still Love You’ set for 2015 release.

I was really, really hesitant to read this novel. I absolutely loved the first two books in Han’s ‘Summer’ series – ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ and ‘It's Not Summer Without You’ – were brilliant, but final book in that contemporary YA trilogy ‘We'll Always Have Summer’ was absolutely awful. I actually still have a bit of a reader’s grudge against Han for making me fall in love with those characters only to do a complete character assassination in the finale. So, like someone who has been bitten once, I went into ‘All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ intrigued by the premise and adoring the cover (diversity!) but wary of this author I’ve been burned by in the past … but I can safely say Han hooked me again, and this book is now a favourite of 2014.

Lara Jean Song Covey is a quite shy, awkward and inexperienced 16-year-old. Han finds a perfect pitch for her, so she doesn’t come across as a Bambi-eyed contrived Mary Sue but an endearing homebody with a penchant for baking and scrap-booking (I could see a lot of my high-school self in Lara Jean). Lara Jean lives the wild side vicariously through her friend Chris, a slut-shamed young woman who has a million stories to tell and is whispered about by their classmates;

Chris isn’t the kind of friend you call every night or have lunch with every day. She is like a street cat, she comes and goes as she pleases.

Han’s first-person narration is really quite beautiful and easy to fall into. Lara Jean has such a lot of history in this town, and connections to so many of her classmates that she brings up old anecdotes about kids she used to hang out with in elementary school;

It’s funny how much of childhood is about proximity. Like who your best friend is is directly correlated to how close your houses are; who you sit next to in music is all about how close your names are in the alphabet. Such a game of chance.

I really loved Han’s scene-setting and getting to know the Covey family, particularly the close relationship between the Song girls. Han’s light touch with discussions of being biracial is also refreshing (Lara Jean grouses that she has a strict “Asian characters only” Halloween costume rule now, after so often being mistaken for a Manga character).

The drama with the love letters and Lara Jean’s old crush on Josh is teased out slowly, but hits like a cyclone when Peter Kavinsky gets involved and comes up with a fake relationship plan for him and Lara Jean (with a warning that she shouldn’t fall in love with him in the process).

Halfway through class he sends me a note. He’s drawn spiderwebs around the edges. It says, I’ll be on time tomorrow. I smile as I read it. Then I put it in my backpack, in my French textbook so the page won’t crease or crumble. I want to keep it so when this is over, I can have something to look at and remember what it was like to be Peter Kavinsky’s girlfriend. Even if it was all just pretend.

Readers will know where the story is heading from a mile away, but it’s still a fun journey to get there. Though I will say Han does what she did with Jeremiah and Conrad in ‘We'll Always Have Summer’ – ensuring the “love triangle” isn’t all it’s tangled up to be, not when Josh is so dull and wishy-washy compared to charismatic and sweetly charming Peter. If I have any other small complaints it’s probably about the slut-shaming and double-standard sexism that’s sparked in the last half of the book, but is left frustratingly unexplored (doubly annoying because Chris seems such a perfect character to get to know better at this point, when Lara Jean gets a taste of the sexist shaming Chris goes through on a daily basis).

‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is the first book in a duology, with second book ‘P.S.I Still Love You’ set for 2015 release. There’s no information about that second book, and I’m a little bit concerned about venturing into another contemporary YA finale of Han’s … but ‘To All The Boys’ does leave off on a bit of an emotional cliffhanger, not to mention Margot and Josh still have a story in them that could make for an interesting second instalment. I’m totally invested in the Song girls dramas now, so will definitely be coming back for more. ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is just plain fun, a YA contemporary that’s good for the soul and had me up until 2AM to finish reading. Highly recommend this book that’s definitely a favourite of 2014 for me.

4.5/5



2 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed this one! I've been really into contemporaries lately and this one sounds really good. I haven't read Jenny Han's summer series but I'm hoping to read it soon. It's interesting that this ones a duology; I've never read a duology before.
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

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    Replies
    1. Yay! Contemporaries are amazing, I hope you enjoy this one and then her 'Summer' series :)

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