February Love Story Spotlight: A review of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”

February 08, 2018

(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)

Hey book lovers! Continuing February's theme of reviewing love stories, today I'm going to talk about the cutest series I've been reading recently. The series is named after the first book, To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han. This book felt like a hug and I want all my friends to read it and fall as in love with the characters as I am!

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TABILF (wow, long and weird acronym. I wonder if anyone ever uses that?) tells the story of Lara Jean Song Covey, a high school junior who loves love. While she's never actually had a boyfriend, Lara Jean has "loved" five different boys in her life. She has also gotten over each of these loves with each boy never being the wiser as to her feelings. When she wants to move on from a boy, she writes him a (usually heartfelt and maybe even a little bit sappy) love letter in which she also tells him goodbye. Since middle school, she has written, sealed, and addressed five letters and left them in a hatbox in her closet. One day, she embarrasses her little sister Kitty and in retaliation, the sneaky Kitty steals and mails those letters that were never meant to be sent. What ensues as a result is funny, sweet, and unlike any other love story I've read as we see Lara Jean fumble through some awkward encounters with boys from her past and learn that loving someone up close is pretty different than loving them from afar.

One distinctive part of Lara Jean's story is that her mom was Korean while her dad is white. There is so little Asian-American representation in popular media, so I love that Han makes Lara Jean's race so present in the novel and shows readers of all races and backgrounds what kinds of experiences Asian-American teenagers have, both similar to and different from kids of any other race. For example, Lara Jean only dresses up as recognizable Asian characters (i.e. Cho Chang from Harry Potter) for Halloween because when she's tried other types of costumes, people have defaulted to thinking that she's dressed as a manga character. She has a great sense of humor about it, but she is still very aware of and sometimes self-conscious about the stereotypes people place on her because of how she looks. At the same time, readers get to see that she's proud of her mother's background and the fun and special Korean traditions that are still a part of her life.

Lara Jean's story is also one of strong familial love. Since her mother passed away when she was young, her father has never remarried and takes care of her and her sisters, Margot and Kitty, on his own. She and her sisters have also become incredibly close and learned to take care of each other in the ways that their father can't. The relationship between the four of them is as tight as a family could have. Even as difficulties arise and cracks form, they find ways to come back to each other and are stronger than they were before. The love story between Lara Jean and her sisters is at least as important to the whole narrative as her romantic love story, and I found that really wonderful. It made me want to go hug my sister (and apologize retroactively for how annoying I was sometimes when we were teenagers).

Finally... Peter Kavinsky. He is one of the boys who gets a letter in To All the Boys I've Loved Before and he is maybe my biggest literary crush ever, with my love for him nearing the love that I have for my own boyfriend, who is — blessings on blessings — not fictional. And that's all I'll say about that. The emphasis on multiple kinds of love being equally valuable in a YA romance like To All the Boys I've Loved Before as well as its successors, P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever, Lara Jean, is excellent, and I strongly recommend this series!

Like before, I'd love to hear about your favorite love stories — romantic, familial, or otherwise — in the comments or on social media!

Hope everyone is having a lovely February so far, pun intended,

K. Hill

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