To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.
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The hype. Oh, God, so much hype and recently it tipped me over the edge and I became obsessed with finding a copy of this book as soon as possible. But you know what’s nice about hype? Sometimes it’s kind of justified, and every now and then a book comes a long that renews my faith in the young adult contemporary genre.
What I thought I was going to get was one of those clumsy, quirky heroines running around town, being ‘zaney’ (whatever that even means) and tracking down those boys. What I got was a great family story that felt more whimsical than it had any right to on the surface – think Gilmore Girls – and the trope to end all tropes; the let’s pretend we’re together EVEN THOUGH WE DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER to achieve our own ends trope. I was hooked. And the fact that the story didn’t head off in quite the direction I thought it would just added to my enjoyment.
For once I actually thought that the teenaged characters acted their age; they felt like real teenagers with just a little bit of added quirk for the sake of the story. For example, Lara Jean’s penchant for cute stationery was totally justified given that it was a gift from her Korean relatives, her obsession with braids is fashionable, and she claimed to enjoy reading without ever pulling out an overdone classic. I could even forgive her passion for vintage clothes. The other Coveys were great, too. It was nice to have non white protagonists without having that fact rammed down your throat every two pages, and a refreshing change to have a parent not die of a tragic illness or horrendous car accident. As for the boys? Well, Josh seemed nice at first but he remained too one dimensional for me to ever be rooting for him and Lara Jean. Almost immediately I was on Peter’s side, despite knowing he would inevitablely be cast aside for all around good guy boy next door Josh. Actually, the two of them were really similar, it’s just that Peter had some semblance of a personality to compliment his general goodness and World War 1 war hero style looks.
The book wasn’t perfect. I was annoyed no one shortened Lara Jean to LJ, I was frustrated Lara Jean kept mooning after Josh even though she thought he and her sister were soul mates (though thankfully that didn’t go on nearly as much as I thought it would), and I kind of hated that the ‘big misunderstanding’ at the end was such a cliche as it was, given how well Han had managed to avoid the more obvious YA cliches up until that point. But these are small things. When I find a YA story that makes me smile instead of roll my eyes or scowl disbelievingly at the pages in front of me, I tend to let myself enjoy it because they don’t come around all that often.