Trilogy Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han Review

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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.

to all the boys i've loved before

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.

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Comments

  1. I felt the same way, and gave the series the same rating. I enjoyed the first book quite a lot. It’s a fantastic stand-alone novel. But the sequel, aside from having no plot at all, I found to be extremely problematic, so I didn’t like it at all. I felt the same way about the third book as well. I really wish the sequels weren’t written. Knowing what happens after the first book, just kind of turned me off from wanting to read it again. I loved your thoughts and they way you articulated them! Wonderful read. 🙂

  2. I love this series, but I haven’t read the 3rd book because I’m afraid it will be dissapointing😫 I’m actually one of those people who disliked Lara Jean when I read book #1, but not because how cute and innocent she is. I think that quality of her is endearing, but I also feel like Lara Jean sort of separating herself from the rest of her friends? Like at the beginning of the book, I didn’t remember her having any close friends despite living in the same place her whole life😶 She’s shy, yes, but as we learn from book #2, she actually had a lot of friends when she was a kid and I feel like she kinda ~floated away~ (because pulling away is not quite right for her) and live in her perfect bubble. I can’t explain it or point it exactly, but that’s how I felt. She grew on me by the end of book 1 though, when she started to open up to other people at her school. I agree with everything else you said, especially as much as I like John Ambrose, book 2 is definitely a pointless and a filler book.

  3. I have this series to binge read, and I’m really sad that the books went downhill for you after the 1st book. I do hate it when a series feels unnecessary and could have stood as a standalone, so I’m going to have to keep this in mind. I’m looking forward to all the family elements to the story though.
    Lovely review, Aimal! 🙂

  4. I actually totally agree with what you’ve said! The first book is one of my favourite books ever because I relate SO much to Lara Jean! I never found a character who is so much like me until reading this book series because I love how homey she is! I love how adorable and simple everything in the book is. The sequels do drag on and add unnecessary conflict for the sake of having a book but at the same time, I enjoyed reading more Lara Jean and Peter! But I totally agree with what you’ve said about them being unnecessary. Lovely review Aimal!

  5. OH I’m so sorry you felt like the sequels were a bit unnecessary, but I’m so happy to hear you still enjoyed the first book, Aimal. It was so adorable, relatable and I loved the big place family holds in this story. I understand your point, though: the sequels weren’t really needed and the book would have worked really well as a standalone for sure. I loved the characters enough to follow them through the next two books, even if at times, it dragged on a little bit.
    I’m still glad you recommend the first book though! 🙂 Lovely review – and stunning pictures!

  6. I was wondering why you rated the series low when there was a glowing review of the first book, haha. It sucks when you feel like sequels were unnecessary 🙁 I’m still interested in reading TATBILB, but I’ll keep in mind what you said about the sequels. Lovely review and beautiful pictures!

  7. I agree with everything you said here. It’s so good to have a “normal” character who likes her family and follow rules. MCs don’t need to be rebellious to be good.
    I wish she had explored the other characters in the rest of the serie. The story of Lara Jean was entertaining in the first book but it would have been better if the other books were about other characters. Maybe her sisters, Josh or even her dad.

    • Exactly! People are so varied, and we get the same main characters all the time – Lara Jean was such a wonderful exception to the cookie-cutter “I don’t care about anything and anyone” attitude. You’re right – I would’ve loved the sequels to be about Kitty, or even Peter Kavinsky. I thought he was a fascinating character!

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