The Book’s Basics
Title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Genre: YA Romance
Length: 368 pages
Initial Reaction: It was cute, had dynamic characters, and also addressed important issues.
Lara Jean has loved five boys in her life. She has never told them, instead deciding to let them go by writing each of them each a letter telling them of her feelings but never addressing them.
When they get mailed to all of the boys, Lara Jean is having to deal with hidden emotions. She makes an agreement with one of the boys who she does not have feelings for anymore to make a different one jealous, but there are a lot of strings attached to each boy.
While she tries to handle with the fallout of the letters being mysteriously sent out, she is also navigating her new family dynamics with her older sister having left for university. Her mother is no longer alive and her father needs a lot of help with the house and looking after her younger sister.
This book deals with a lot of themes really well: racism, being a child with a dead parent, fighting and managing fear, consolidating feelings and expectations of what those feelings should be, and family loyalty.
Who would I recommend this book to?
I did enjoy this book, but I think it would have had more of an impact when I was in high school myself. So, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA romance, but especially for readers who are still in high school.
I read this book as part of a book and movie group that I started with some friends. Once a month, we pick a book and its corresponding movie. We read and watch these and then talk about it at the end of the month.This has been a really fun way to consume media. This last year has been isolating and being able to talk with friends, especially ones who I haven’t had the chance to talk with in a long time, has been something that I am very grateful for.
It also means that I am consuming media in a way that I haven’t really done before, or at least not on a regular basis.
I’m notoriously bad at watching movies. I enjoy them, but I haven’t seen a lot of them compared to a lot of other people I know. Being able to talk with other people who have more knowledge about movies and how they get made has been a great experience.
This book, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, has been adapted as a Netflix Original film. The movie has the same general feel as the book and I would recommend watching if you enjoyed the book. If you can only fit one in to you schedule though, I would recommend the book over the movie. There are some themes that I think are explored in the book that feel rushed through in the movie, and that does a bit of a disservice to the characters. The movie is charming, but compared to the book there are points of tension that are left out or amalgamated – for what feels like convenience.
There are a lot of themes that are explored in both, such as race, growing up with a parent who has passed away, the relationship between sisters, confidence, and self-expression. There are more, but these are the ones that stood out to me. These are all explored really well and I am looking forward to seeing how they develop further in the other books.
Writer Craft Notes
I am an unpublished writer, but I would like to be published some day, so when I read a book I am trying to be more aware of the author’s craft and what I can learn from them.
This book did a lot that interested me. I really liked the pacing – there was always tension. Everything had a reason for happening and were all character driven.
The characters are dynamic and intriguing. I’m impressed by their flaws; they all have flaws but most of the characters are likeable. The flaws are also believable: Lara Jean struggling with confidence; Margot struggling with control and also the stress of being the matriarch of her family after her mother passed away; Peter being sometimes too casual and being under Gen’s influence; Josh.
I also really enjoyed the voice of the narrator and protagonist, Lara Jean. She is an unreliable narrator, but that feeds into her charm. She is also clever, kind, and funny, which are all shown through her actions, narration, and her voice. There are also a lot of lines from the book that I thought were well written:
“If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms.”Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (p. 14). Scholastic UK. iBooks Edition.
“…it’s lonely to cry alone.”Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (p. 38). Scholastic UK. iBooks Edition
“Firsts are best because they are beginnings.”Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (p. 152). Scholastic UK. iBooks Edition
“‘I mean, basically.’ Basically exactly.”Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (p. 215). Scholastic UK. iBooks Edition
These are some of my favourite lines. Jenny Han’s writing is worth reading for aspiring writers. The book as a whole is enjoyable, but her writing at a sentence level is impressive and there can be a lot learned by how she does it. Every sentence has a purpose and a lot of her writing does multiple things (e.g. telling action, giving insight into Lara Jean or another character’s perspective and character, setting the atmosphere of the passage, and perpetuating the theme). A lot can be done with few words, and Jenny Han does all of it.
I think I will likely re-read this book to look specifically at the characters, their development, and the sentence-level writing, but even just reading it once to prepare for the book club has given me valuable insight into how these can work well in a book. These skills are transferable to every genre, so I think it could be beneficial to any writer, writing in any genre, to read this book.