To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, 2014. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Face Value: This is a gorgeous cover. Real girl, real setting, real anticipation for the story that is told in the pages between. I was not ashamed to read this in public.
Does it break the slate? Sadly, no. Lara Jean does not step up to take charge of her destiny until the very last page of the book. (Seriously, the final page. Not a hyperbole.) Her sisters are both more likely to be Slatebreakers, but the story is told from Lara Jean’s perspective, and it doesn’t make the cut. I still enjoyed reading the book, but it’s not a great example of a young woman speaking up and challenging the status quo.
Review: Lara Jean is one of a three tight-knit sisters. They have protected and supported one another since their mother died years ago, and they thought that nothing could come between them. Then Margot, the eldest sister, decides to attend college in Scotland. That is a long way away from the Eastern US. For the first time, the sisters will be apart, and everyday life will be an unknown. This is terrifying for Lara Jean, because she thrives on routine. Lara Jean lives in her comfort zone and has no interest in shaking up the norm.
Once Margot leaves for school, Lara Jean becomes the oldest sister. She suddenly has to take on Margot’s responsibilities. Margot was the one who made sure that meals were healthy and on time, and that the youngest sister, Kitty, had a some care and guidance as she careened through the world. Lara Jean isn’t used to this role, and she can’t do it successfully. Suddenly she is expected to become a person she isn’t.
While this major transition happens, Lara Jean has to deal with some romantic upheaval. She has a cathartic habit of writing letters to boys she loves. The boys never know that she loves them, because Lara Jean has never been in an actual relationship. She simply adores them from afar, and writes love letters to get it out of her system. Once the letter is written, she tucks it away into a hatbox, and then it’s done. She can move on. Except someone has mailed all of her love letters. Suddenly, these boys that Lara Jean once obsessed over are coming out of the woodwork. They have questions. Why did Lara Jean write the letters? Does she still feel this way? And what will she do when she learns that some of those initial attractions might have been reciprocated?
There is a lot of romantic entanglement that ensues – too complicated for me to summarize here. I appreciated some of the tender moments Lara Jean has with her love interests, but I also got frustrated when one of them frequently treated her like crap. Lara Jean knew that she was being used, too. Instead of severing her ties to this boy, she kept going back for more. It was painful to read. Lara Jean is smart and friendly, yet consistently underestimating herself. All of the other characters tell her this, too. It’s not just the reader thinking it. Yet Lara Jean doesn’t change her behaviors until the very end of the book, when everyone else’s dire predictions come true.
Lara Jean and her sisters are extremely likable characters. This was actually a pretty enjoyable read, other than the fact that Lara Jean wasn’t very smart about her love life. This was a decent YA fictional romance, but it failed to meet my preferences for Slatebreaking heroines. I did like Jenny Han’s writing style, and I plan to check out some of her other stories to see if I can find some female characters with a bit more verve.
Reviewed from a library copy.