S E R I E S R A T I N G // 🌸 🌸
Lara Jean’s having a bit of a tough time in high school; her sister just moved away to college, and the love letters that she wrote to all the boys she’s had a crush on before are mailed to each recipient. One by one, Lara Jean is forced to confront each of these boys much to her mortification – she’s ill-equipped to handle such sticky situations, and throw in fake-dating, a leaked scandalous video of her with the cheeky but charming Peter Kavinsky in the mix and it all becomes a little too much to handle. That’s how the series starts – with a bunch of letters being mailed out, a lovable protagonist and writing that makes you feel like you’re floating on a cloud of pink.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before started off with a bang. In fact, the first book may be one of my favorite contemporaries of all time. You’re immediately drawn in with the unconventionality of it all – Jenny Han strays far from tropes. There are things in this series that I’ve always wanted more from in YA books, and because of that alone, this series is worth picking up.
For one, there’s a wonderful family structure surrounding Lara Jean.
Her father is protective, supportive and immensely lovable, and his presence in her life isn’t reduced to just reality. He plays an important role in each of these three books, and how often do we get present parental figures who are genuinely good? Moreover, Lara Jean’s relationship with her sisters is given proper time to develop and evolve. Kitty, her younger sister, is feisty and sarcastic, and is a prominent secondary character in the series. Lara Jean’s older sister is also a strong presence, even though she’s away studying in Scotland. The tight-knit familial relationships are a wonderful aspect to this series.
Lara Jean is a lovable protagonist – her childlike innocence and ‘immaturity’ are another unconventional aspect to the series.
This is one thing that makes the series unlikable to some people – they think Lara Jean’s too juvenile, too immature and childlike, but that’s something I greatly appreciated about this series. It’s not that she’s immature at all; it’s just that she has an innocent personality. She enjoys baking and cute things. There is something incredibly endearing about a girl who enjoys fluffy clothes, and calls her father “daddy” even when she’s a teenager. I think sometimes readers are too unforgiving of different personalities and different experiences. I, a South Asian reader, related to Lara Jean a lot, not in her interests and hobbies, but rather because of her relationship with her family, and her resistance to things “rebel” teenagers do. I was never much of a rebel, honestly, and I don’t often relate to books where the teens have no regard for rules or authority. Lara Jean’s personality was a refreshing relief from protagonists that had started to blend together.
The series is so cute. It reads like you’re floating on a cloud, wrapped in fluffy blankets with hot cookies by your side.
It’s just so cute – it’s written with warmth, the dialogue feels incredibly personable, and the romance between Lara Jean and Kavinsky, especially, is adorable. Their banter while they’re fake-dating in the first book, moving on to their respectful, but also topsy-turvey and flawed relationship dynamic, was wonderful to watch. I’m a massive fan of commitment in books, and that’s another thing you don’t often see. And Jenny Han does such a fantastic job of developing these characters that you can’t help but fall in love with them. All of them. In the end, no matter how you feel about the individual books, you can’t help but feel like you’re returning home to people that you love and know.
So why the 2-star rating? There’s so much here to love!
See, the thing is – if I were judging book one alone, I’d give a rating of four or four and a half stars. Because the series starter could’ve been a great stand-alone. The sequels? They felt so… unnecessary. After turning the last page of the second book, I asked myself, “What was the point?” And similarly after turning the page of the last book, I asked myself yet again, “No really. What is the point?” And when you consistently ask yourself why a series is a series? That’s not really a great series, then, is it?
Because while the first book was fun to read, the sequels dragged. If I were an editor…
I would replace the entire plot of the second book with something different, then condense the events of the third book in ten or so chapters, and add those ten chapters to the newly written second book. And even then, the first book didn’t need any more! The plot of P.S. I Still Love You was so unnecessary, and that’s all I can do to describe it. The ending totally destroyed any build-up to any of the tensions in the second book – Lara Jean finds herself in the same situation at the end of Book II as she does in the start of it. And that’s a problem I had with Always & Forever, Lara Jean too. The book builds up to a pivotal moment in Lara Jean’s life (there’s virtually no plot but there is one major tension) – she has to make a choice, and you’re reading to find out where it’s going. And then at the last second, Jenny Han twists it around with five pages to spare. The conclusions are incredibly rushed. The plot changes and the sheer unencessity of it gave me whiplash.
Of course, that’s almost entirely my personal preference. Some people enjoy slice-of-life books; in a way, this series reads a lot like TV shows. Different problems in different books, some repetitions, some back-and-forth. And if you love the characters enough, you won’t mind it. But from a critical standpoint, the series flickers and stumbles beyond the first book.
But despite my clear issues, I will still recommend the first book to everyone who enjoys light contemporaries.
Because the first book was just that great, to me. Like I said, there’s a lot going for this series, and it’s become one of those books that is my go-to recommendation for people looking for summer reads that are cute, light and fun. However, if you were to ask me, I wouldn’t recommend the sequels much. The first book is a great stand-alone, too.