Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
PUBLICATION DATE: April 15, 2014 
SOURCE/FORMAT: Library book! 
KEYWORDS: sister relationships, love letters, first loves
Every girl handles love lost differently. Some choose to cry it out over their favorite sappy movie. Others eat it away with a pint (or two) of Ben and Jerry's. And Lara Jean chooses to write love letters to the former objects of her affection. She doesn't ever send them, God no, she tucks them safely away in a vintage hat box in her closet. But then one day at school, Peter, one of the boys she's written letters to, approaches her with a note that looks mighty familiar. The impossible became possible. Her love letters, five of them exactly, have been shipped out to all of the boys she's loved before. As if she needed something else to deal with. Her hold-it-together big sister Margot has just moved to Europe, and now she has to take care of her dad and little sister, all while doing damage control for her letter. 

There has been a lot of hype around this book since it came out (on my birthday!) and I dragged my feet on picking it up for some reason. I don't know if it was the fact that this book is so highly praised or if it was because I haven't been in a fluffy reading mood, but now I regret that I waited so freaking long to pick this up! The best part was this book was not at all what I expected it to be. The general synopsis of this book pointed me in the direction of really awkward boy drama. Lara Jean is forced to confront these boys all of a sudden, some of which she has only communicated to through these love letters, so there is a lot of awkward drama, but that isn't what is at the heart of this story. 
I like to save things. Not important things like whales or people or the environment. Silly things. Porcelain bells, the kind you get at souvenir shops. Cookie cutters you'll never use, because who needs a cooke in the shape of a foot? Ribbons for my hair. Love letters. Of all the things I save, I guess you could say my love letters are my most prized possessions. 
I'll get into the boys later, because I kind of have to, duh. But first I want to talk about the amazing SISTERHOOD that is in this story. I loved that Lara Jean's older sister Margot, and younger sister Kitty, were the real stars of this novel, even before the boys. I wasn't expecting this book to have such a strong family presence so it was a pleasant surprise. Lara Jean goes through it all with her sisters. They've made pacts. They look out for each other. They lie for each other. They make compromises for each other. Each sister is also so full of personality, and Han perfectly executed what makes having a sister so special. I especially loved Kitty. She was so full of sass for being nine years old, and her timing of things to say was awesome. She is also notorious for holding a grudge, and Lara Jean has to crack the nearly impossible code of making her sibling happy again. The three girls live alone with their father, and their mother had died when they were younger. I loved that even with their mother not there, they did things to keep her spirit alive. Even their father wasn't there as much as an OB/GYN doctor, but when he was around, he got thumbs up. He is white, and does all he can to keep up with their Korean traditions, and tries really hard to be there for them.
It takes all of history class and most of English for my heart rate to slow down. I kissed Peter Kavinsky. In the hallway, in front of everybody. In front of Josh.
I didn't think this thing through, obviously. That's what Margot would say, including and especially the "obviously." If I had thought it through, I would have made up a boyfriend and not picked an actual person. More specifically, I would not have picked Peter K. He is literally the worst person I could have picked, because everybody knows him. He's Peter Kavinsky, for Pete's sake. Kavinsky of Gen and Kavinsky. It doesn't matter that they're broken up. They're an institution at this institution.  
Now for the boys. I was so torn on them. I think that the focus of this books synopsis being on them lead to me believe that there would be a LOT of boy drama, when really the drama was not that crazy. Of the five letters that get sent out, only two of them really stir the pot, and that is with Josh, and Peter. The problem with Josh is that he has been in a long-term relationship with Margot, even though Lara Jean knows that she is the one who loved him first. Peter is the ultimate boy to have a crush on in high school, who Lara Jean hasn't had feelings for since junior high. The boys were just fine. Each one had their own quirks and didn't fall into a stereotypical role. I also super appreciated the fact that Jenny Han did not make Lara Jean's love life predictable. I thought for sure that I had her fate pinned down, but it changes in a way that is realistic and surprising. 
I cross my arms. "I'd better still have enough flour."
"You look like a grandma," he says, still laughing.
"Well, you look like a grandpa," I counter. I dump the flour in my mixing bowl back into the flour canister.
"Actually, you're really a lot like my granny," Peter says. "You hate cussing. You like to bake. You stay at home on Friday nights. Wow, I'm dating my granny. Gross." 
I really enjoyed Lara Jean's narration. There are a lot of different sides to her that we get to see in action. She's quirky with a lot of cute interests like baking and scrapbooking. She orders clothes off of Japanese Street Fashion websites, and I imagine her having the cutest bedroom on the planet. She's not overly academic like her sister Margot was, but she's smart. She's half Korean, and when I thought about it, I don't think I've ever read a book with a Korean narrator ever? I liked getting little glimpses into the Song girl's culture, whether it's the bo ssam that their father tries and fails to make, or their holiday traditions brought into their world by their mother. Even though Peter (above) describes Lara Jean as a granny, I thought she was a wonderfully well-rounded narrator that was able to make me laugh, make me cry, make me shake my head, and teach me things. She was fabulous.

TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE is a book that definitely lives up to the hype that swirls around it. It is a quirky story filled with family bonds and the awkward world of getting involved with boys. I believe this is the first book of a new series, so color me excited for the next one! I definitely won't wait so long to read it :)

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