As you have probably guessed, I am a lover of letters. Therefore, what could be more perfect than To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and its sequel P.S. I Still Love You, the story of a girl who writes letters to all the boys she’s ever loved?
“My letters are for when I don’t want to be in love anymore. They’re for good-bye. Because after I write in my letter, I’m not longer consumed by my all-consuming love…My letters set me free. Or at least they’re supposed to.”
Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean keeps a bundle of love letters in a hatbox. They aren’t letters that someone has sent to her; they’re letters that she’s written and never delivered. One for each of the boys she’s had a crush on, including her sensible older sister’s boyfriend. When Lara Jean discovers that her letters have accidentally been sent to the boys in question, her relationship with her sister is put in jeopardy.
The story of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, continued in the sequel P.S. I Still Love You, is fairly standard for this sort of genre. There are misunderstandings galore, fake romantic relationships which lead to confusion and painful lessons to be learnt about growing up and accepting responsibility. What makes this series stand out from the many other pastel-covered books dealing with the same themes is the heroine and narrator, Lara Jean Song.
Whether you’ll like the book or not really depends on whether you warm to her as a character. Shy, romantic and impractical, Lara Jean is the opposite of fiercely strong, ass-kicking heroines like The Hunger Games’ Katniss and Divergent’s Tris, but that’s what I liked so much about her. She is a flawed, dorky and at times immature character, but that’s what made her growth all the more interesting to follow.
Han also deserves an A+ for her descriptions of Lara Jean’s family life. Her father and two sisters (protective Margot and fierce Kitty) were characters who came to life as vividly as the heroine did. Many books aimed at a Young Adult audience skim over family relationships to focus on boyfriends. However, I’m glad To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before took the time to develop this aspect of Lara Jean’s life because it made her character feel more well-rounded and added a lot of entertainment value to the book.
The use of love letters was an intriguing concept, and as a picture of unrequited longing, this series is impeccable. The actual romance was one of the weaker elements of the first book; in order to avoid Josh, her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Lara Jean pretends to be dating popular, sarcy Peter. Inevitably, feelings begin to arise between her and Peter, leading to confusion about what’s real and what’s not. Perhaps because Josh and Peter are first and foremost objects of desire, in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, they never quite seem to come off the page and become living people like Lara Jean and her family.
The second instalment, P.S. I Still Love You, gives Peter much more development. As Lara Jean gets to know him better, he becomes an actual person, rather than an idea. However, I felt that other side characters didn’t get the same kind of development and were left flat and stereotypical. John Ambrose McClaren, another recipient of Lara Jean’s love letters, basically seemed to be introduced to create competition between him and Peter. I found him an overly-perfect and rather unnecessary character. There was also popular, bitchy Genevieve, rival to Lara Jean and ex-girlfriend of Peter, who never quite stepped out of the shallow, queen bee archetype.
Gentle, endearing and highly readable, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before takes an intriguing concept and runs with it, spinning a wistful story about first love, complicated family relationships and growing up. It’s a well-worn narrative, but Han’s quirky, unmistakable writing style makes it feel gorgeously fresh.
Die-hard romantics, fans of sweet coming-of-age dramas and people with sisters.
Also, check out the talented Yulin Kuang’s adaptation of the prologue here:
P.S. I Still Love You was featured in my June-July Wrap Up.