To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.
Simon and Schuster BFYR imprint, New York, 2014.
YA Romance/realistic fiction, 355 pages plus recipes and excerpt.
Lexile: 630L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 12.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would recommend this book for high school students and not elementary school.
Lara Jean is the middle of three sisters and her mother has passed away. Her oldest sister, Margot, is moving to Scotland, leaving Lara Jean in charge of her younger sister and father.
I am probably the only person ever to read this book because I first enjoyed Jenny Han’s middle grade book Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. This series has been hyped so much that I thought it would be another Everything, Everything, but after reading and liking Clara Lee, I grabbed this at Target.
Did not realize it was a cliffhanger ending, which was annoying, but otherwise I enjoyed it. Reviews promised me that the story was equally about the relationship between three sisters as the love story. It certainly was a fast read.
There’s an interesting premise – Lara Jean’s been in love five times, but never confessed this to any of the boys. Instead, she writes them a love letter, exercising all her feelings about them and placing it in an old hatbox her mother gave her. These letters are accidentally sent (and I found it was super obvious what happened with that) and then Lara Jean and her family have to deal with the aftermath.
However, it’s not until well into the book that the letters are sent, Lara Jean finds out about that, and she’s dealing with it in her own quirky way. The book actually opens with her sister Margot leaving, and this plays into how the book isn’t your typical YA romance, but focuses a great deal on the family relationships as well. While it made for a slow opening, this was one of Han’s greatest strengths.
I expected more from the letters themselves. When we finally get to read one, they weren’t exactly scandalous or surprising. I guess it was more of Lara Jean’s character that she found them embarrassing, and certainly the timing wasn’t great.
There were some aspects of this that I didn’t love. It felt a bit predictable to me (as romances often do), and going into the second book I’m fairly confident who Lara Jean will end up with. Like Everything, Everything, this book is being touted as an example of diverse reading but the character lives in a white world. Since her Korean mother has passed away, the references to Korean culture were present but few and far between and the majority of characters and situations were white.
Lara Jean doesn’t reflect much on being biracial or on her cultural heritage, so this doesn’t hold the same insights that The Sun is Also A Star has. She’s more wrapped up in her family and love life. There is a great deal of cooking and baking in this book, and I liked that our other senses were activated by the descriptions and that baking actually played a role in the plot.
The ending was a cliffhanger in some ways. Lara Jean’s love life is still in flux, but the family issues are brought to a stopping point. This only cemented for me that in this series, Lara Jean’s relationship with her family is just as important as her love life, a very refreshing thing to see in a YA romance. It also stays fairly realistic, which I appreciated.
Potential Spoilers Lara Jean’s romance involves kissing and heavy petting but she doesn’t have sex. Other characters are sexually active to various degrees, which is discussed, but Lara Jean keeps a boundary. Nice to see a character considering the consequences of her actions and not just jumping into bed immediately. End of Spoilers
Since Han didn’t originally plan to write a third book, I’m hoping that there’s no cliffhanger at the end of the second one. In some ways I’m going to reserve judgement until reading the second book, because it was a cliffhanger ending and I’m not sure the second half of the story will live up to the promise of the first book. But the romance wasn’t insta-love and the family connections were real and well-portrayed, so I’m going to tentatively recommend this.