Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of Pages: 368
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them... all at once?
Lara Jean Song 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—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says 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.
I have been ridiculously excited to read this book from the moment I heard of it. I was checking EW like a fiend hoping it would pop up, only to resign myself to the fact that I was just going to have to wait for this one to actually be released. Thankfully, the library gods were smiling down on me and this came in for me super quickly--like, the day after it was released--and I happily spent my 3 day weekend with it (and some play-off hockey).
Honestly, I'm not even sure why I was so excited for this one. I only moderately enjoyed the first two books in the "Summer" series and down-right LOATHED the 3rd and final book, but I'm loving the Burn for Burn series that she writes with Siobhan Vivian. I think what really drew me in was how much the synopsis reminded me of teen-me. I was a letter writing fool when I was in Jr. high/high school...and, ahem, maybe even into college. I thrived on my broken hearts--who knows? I was such a weirdo--and loved, LOVED, to write long, soul-pouring letters to whomever happened to be my current crush/recent ex-boyfriend (inevitably the same person. Um, I tended not to like a guy until after we broke up). So hearing that this book was about a girl whose secret love letters--that should have never seen the light of day--accidentally get mailed to their recipients had teen-me cringing and adult-me crying: Gimme, gimme!
Lara Jean is a half-white/half-Korean teen who lives with her single father and two sisters. Her older sister, Margot, is the perfect one. She has long been the maternal figure in the household. After the girls' mother passed away, Margot took care of her younger sisters and efficiently ran the home, but now she is leaving to go to college all the way over in Scotland. Lara Jean, a junior, is terrified that she isn't going to be able to fill her big sister's shoes, especially with her 9 year-old sister, Kitty. Kitty is the bold one. She holds long grudges and says whatever is on her mind. Lara Jean often has to remind herself that she is all that Kitty has now.
The one thing all three girls have in common is their love for the next-door neighbor, Josh. Back in middle school Lara Jean was nursing a massive crush on Josh that she had to squash when he began dating her sister, Margot. Knowing how much Margot has always sacrificed for the family, Lara couldn't begrudge her sister's happiness and slipped into the role of third wheel. She is surprised when Margot breaks-up with Josh before leaving for Scotland, explaining to Lara that their mother always told her to never go to college with a boyfriend. Lara is sure that nothing will change between her and Josh, even with her sister's absence, until she discovers that the hatbox her mother gave her is missing...and all the love letters she has ever written that where in the box have been "mysteriously" mailed out. Including the one for Josh.
Over the years Lara has "loved" five boys: Josh; Peter, who is part of the group she used to hang out with alongside her former best friend, Genevieve, the school's queen bee; and 3 others. The synopsis is a bit misleading as I thought all five of the boys would show up, but that's not really the case. One letter gets returned to her through the mail, so we never know what happened to that guy. One guy ends up being gay. They have a brief conversation. The final guy presumably gets his letter, but there is no confrontation. The book really focuses on Josh and Peter which creates the love triangle Han is so very fond of.
See, when Josh confronts Lara about the letter he received, she immediately blurts out that she is dating someone just to save face. When he asks who, Peter happens to be walking by and she makes a split-second decision and says it is Peter. Peter, for his part, has recently broken up with Genevieve and decides to go along with the charade in order to make Gen jealous. Soon Lara finds that Peter may not be the smug, conceited boy she imagined him to be, and Josh is making it known that he doesn't approve of this new relationship at all. Because he is jealous?
There was a lot that I enjoyed about To All the Boys. I loved the fact that the book isn't all romance. The sisters--known as the Song girls after their mother's maiden name--had wonderfully complex, real relationships. I love books that focus on sisterhood. I wish we could have seen a little more from Margot, but even abroad, her relationship with Lara was clear. I also really liked Kitty--even when I didn't like her.
I loved Lara and her personality. She really did remind me of teen-me as the book went along. I was definitely a late-blooming romantic when I was her age, so I connected with her throughout the story. I also really liked both Peter and Josh. They were different characters which I appreciated. Josh really has the whole boy-next-door thing going for him. I know some people will hate the fact that she likes her sister's boyfriend, but my sister and I loved the same boy when I was in 8th grade and she was in 12th. The boy in question was in 10th and we bonded over our mutual attraction (we got to stay at his house for two weeks when our parents were out of town which was so awesome--and spent the whole summer with him and his sister). I know it's different as he was never "hers", but my point is sometimes sisters fall for the same guy. Josh is sweet and caring and loves the whole family right back from Lara's father to little Kitty. I loved getting to know Peter, too, who does come off as a bit arrogant at first, but becomes more and more likable as they pretend to be together. I also liked Lara's one female friend, Chris, who is like an alley cat who makes her way in and out of Lara's life.
What I wasn't thrilled about was the way the story ended. I knew this was the first book of the series, but I wasn't expecting the ending to be such a non-ending. It ended on a cliff-hanger (not really the right word as nothing is REALLY at stake) in a way that contemporaries rarely do. Also, who was behind the letters getting mailed out was SO obvious, it made me question Lara's intelligence that she didn't immediately know who it was.
Overall, though, I did enjoy To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Despite not really being about 5 separate confrontations/boys and ending on such a hook, I loved the look at sisterhood and really liked all of the main characters. I'm excited to see where the next book takes us. However, I already know that this is a book I'll have to reread before I pick up the sequel as there is NO way the characters are going to stay with me for the next year. This book is pretty cute and fun, but nothing about it is very memorable. Recommended if you like YA contemporaries with a focus on romance and sisters.