High school junior Lara Jean has never had a boyfriend, but she has been in love. She’s been in love with the cocky, popular boy who “stole” her first kiss, the boy from summer camp who saved a kid from drowning, the fashionable classmate who everyone thinks is gay, and even the family friend who dated her older sister. She’s been in love with them, but she’s never told them. Instead she’s written them love letters to get over her feelings and stored them, unsent, in a hatbox her mother gave her before she died. When the love letters mysteriously are sent to all the boys, she has to deal with all the emotions she’d thought she’d sealed away in five little envelopes.
This is my love letter for TO ALL THE BOYS I”VE LOVED BEFORE, and to Jenny Han for writing it. Unlike Lara Jean I’m writing it to share my love of the novel not to get over it.
At a glance, there are a lot of things going on in the book that basically made me guaranteed to like it. I’ve liked Jenny Han’s books more and more successively. It heavily features sister relationships. It has elements of “Drive Me Crazy” my all-time, favorite movie from 1999 to 2002 (and maybe longer). The romance that develops with somebody (I’m not going to spoil it for you) is so romantic/sweet/realistic/sexy/etc. I can’t even write about it without my hands getting a little sweaty… in a good way. The set up of the plot also instantly interested me. It creates a tension that made me wonder as a reader what is going to happen next?
I enjoyed all these elements, but that’s not what made me fall in love with this book. Lara Jean is a character I related to so much that I cried at several moments while reading. She is quiet and shy. She feels more comfortable with very safe and close friends than in a big group, and often happier staying at home with her sisters than going out. Some of this might be motivated about fear, but a lot of it is just her personality.
There were so many moments while reading, when I thought, “yes, yes, yes!” the same way Lara Jean thinks that when the gay guy at school compares not wanting to come out out at school to her not liking when people ask what kind of Asian she is (which is actually just one example of how Jenny Han neither ignores her main character’s race nor makes it the focal point of the story).
More than just identifying with Lara Jean, I fell in love with the way her personality is handled within the story. Too often quiet and awkward girls are relegated into one of two types of narratives. Either they must get over their shy caterpillar stages and become popular, confident butterflies or they remain relatively inactive and have a lot of interesting things happen to them. Lara Jean doesn’t fit into either trope. She is active within the plot without having to give up or change her personality. Boy(s) don’t love her despite who she is or because she changes. They love, or think they love, her as she is.
This felt both rare and important to me as a reader and aspiring writer, but as a formerly shy, awkward high school girl it felt incredibly validating. I think that’s why I ended up finishing the book in one sitting and I know it’s why I’m writing this review right now.
So please everyone go read this book so we can talk about it. And to Jenny Han, thank you so much for writing this character. The ending was perfect, but I’m still crossing my fingers for a sequel.