This one has been on my list for a while. At first I was excited about it but a fellow reader I really respect didn’t give it a good review. She said it was vapid and that she thought she “lost brain cells from reading this book“. So I pushed it to the bottom of my TBR pile and eventually forgot about it. That is until it popped back up in my email via B.A.M. A quick search of my library’s inventory and I was taking it home to see for myself what she disliked so much about it. Curiosity man, it’s a beast!
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.”
Now I’ll admit, it was VERY saccharine sweet and utterly predictable. A YA version of a “beach read” in my opinion. No super deep plot, no major emotional roller coaster, no real surprises. But by far not the worst contemporary YA romance I’ve ever read. Honestly, it reminded me of a cheesy ’80s chick flick. Cliche to the hilt and full of your basic love triangle characters – The relationship naive girl, the boy next door that she’s had a crush on forever but can’t have, the super hot guy still hung up on his ex. Even the story line was your typical setup. Two people, not the least bit interested in a real relationship, fake one to make others jealous but ultimately fall in love with each other. Everything was pretty much unoriginal and I think that’s what makes you either hate it or love it. Me, I was more of slightly amused ‘meh‘.
As you can tell from the Goodreads description, the story centers around Lara Jean. She’s a middle child that lost her mom when she was a kid. I personally think this played a lot into her actions. Where her older sister matured so she could step up and take on her mom’s role, Lara Jean took on a more Beta role. She pulled in on herself, played it safe, never got really involved in anything other than school work and family life. She took her cues from her family and never once stepped out of line. I wouldn’t say she was sheltered but something very akin to it. It even reflected in the fact that she called her father, “Daddy”, instead of just Dad like most normal 16 year olds. Immature and naive are perfect watch words for Lara Jean. Of course, that didn’t stop her from wearing her heart on her sleeve. She fell in love but never had the courage to say anything. So she wrote letters. 5 to be exact.
The catalyst for our story is when her letters get sent. 5 in total, to all the boys she’s had crushes on in the past (all in middle school). This story really only goes into 2 of the letters even though letters 3 and 4 got mini side notes and the 5th was a “return to sender”. The primary one Lara Jean is concerned about goes to her big sister’s ex-boyfriend, the boy next door and her best friend, Josh. What sucks for her is that this letter was written when her sister, Margot, and Josh first started dating. Lara Jean had a crush on Josh almost from the moment he moved in next door but never said anything. Recognizing that she can’t covet what her sister has, she poured her heart out into this letter to basically say good bye. From then on, she legitimately never thought of Josh in that way. I think the letters were her way of compartmentalizing, closing that part of her heart, whatever you want to call it. However, once the Josh got the letter (after Margot broke up with him) everything got twisted around. Josh, reeling emotionally from his breakup with Margot right before she left for Scotland, wonders if maybe they should’ve started dating instead. He makes motions in that direction and Lara Jean panics. She starts looking for a way out but instead of honesty, she decides on avoidance and subterfuge. Enter the hot guy, that incidentally got a letter too.
Peter is your quintessential “handsome boy”, right down to the jock status – Lacrosse, not football at least. Tall, narcissistic, popular, and trying desperately to hide his heart of gold behind humor. He’s recently been dumped by his “popular and hot” girlfriend, Gen; a.k.a. the She Devil. After a confrontation over the letter he received, Peter and Lara Jean hatch a plan that they feel will be mutually beneficial. Lara Jean decides Peter could basically act as her cock block with Josh. Maybe if Josh sees that she’s off the market, he’ll back off the romantic ideas and just go back to being her friend. Peter wants to use Lara Jean to make Gen jealous and come running back to him. He can’t say that he loves Gen but he does care for her after all the years they’ve spent together. To me, it seemed like that relationship rut that you get into with a particular person and can’t get out of even though you know it’s time to move on to something better.
Lara Jean and Peter even work out a contract for this train wreck of a plan. As can be expected, what started out as innocent turns into major problems. Lara Jean has difficulty telling the difference between pretending and her actual feelings. Their actions become more natural and relaxed towards each other. Even as she is reminding herself that it’s a fake relationship, she still gets the feelings of contentment around him and jealousy when she’s not his sole focus. No surprise, she starts to fall for Peter again. Peter, getting to know the real Lara Jean, begins to like her back. He even opens up and tells her that he’s always thought she was cute and that’s why he kissed her way back in middle school. A friendship develops and he decides he wants to explore their feelings for each other. Lara Jean, being the idiot that she is when it comes to boys, doesn’t notice how Peter is changing for and because of her. He’s legitimately trying to be sweet and she thinks he’s just being a flirt. She has no idea what to do when he gets emotionally serious with her and starts showing genuine affection. She’s so cocooned in her insecurity that she basically brushes him off frequently. It all implodes when Lara Jean, not being ready for a real relationship, pushes Peter away when it really counts.
The book ends on a cliff hanger of sorts. Margot finds out about Lara Jean and Josh’s “moment” in the living room and while she distances herself from Lara Jean in the beginning, they eventually work it out. Peter and Lara Jean are at odds though and we’re left wondering if they’ll work through it. Personally, I’d think twice about taking Lara Jean back if I was Peter. He was nothing but open and honest and she acted liked a little kid. He said it best when he told her, “You need to grow up.” She was getting there but not nearly as quickly as I’d have liked. I try to remind myself that all this took place over only a few months but still. One can stay true to themselves and still accept change. Change is normal. Change is necessary. Maybe Lara Jean was adverse to it because her mom’s death stunted her emotional growth. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I can see why some found her annoying. Only because I’m curious to see if Peter takes her back, will I pick up the next installment – P.S. I Still Love You.
Overall, I’d give it 3.5 Bookmarks. Mostly because it was more “junk food” than substance.