I have been meaning to read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before for the longest time. After reading Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy and not really enjoying it, I was a bit hesitant to pick this series up. However, a couple of my friends convinced me to watch the movie adaptation a few months ago and I immediately adored it. The entire time I was watching it I couldn’t help but think: I must read this book ASAP. ASAP ended up being a bit longer than I intended due to the fact that I had to finish writing an honors thesis and graduate undergrad, but I got around to it eventually! Because I watched the movie adaptation first I couldn’t help but picture the characters and setting that way in my head as I read; however, I’ve tried to give the book a fair shot on its own and not let my love of the movie cloud my vision.
What I truly love about this book is the family dynamic. There’s just something so magical about Lara Jean’s family. They might not always get along, and they certainly aren’t perfect, but that’s what makes them feel so real and genuine. We all struggle with whether or not to keep a secret from our family at some point in our lives, and Lara Jean’s predicament shows the consequences of how hard that can be when you’re so close with your family. It’s also just so fun and cozy reading about the Covey family traditions—from dinners together and inside jokes to baking Christmas cookies on December 1st every year, reading about these traditions reminded me of those of my own family. In this way, the whole atmosphere of this novel is just lovely.
However, I was a bit thrown off by how different this book was from its movie adaptation. While details of Lara Jean’s family dynamic were definitely expanded upon more in the novel, the same can’t be said for her “fake” relationship with Peter. Without the deep conversations that they shared in the film, Peter actually came off a lot more obnoxious to me in the book. Part of me would have liked their relationship to be fleshed out more, but part of me also respects Han’s decision to make the book focus more on family and friendship (like the Covey family’s complicated friendship with Josh) than just Lara Jean and Peter, as the movie tended to do. Another difference that took me aback was the plot itself—the book and movie ended completely different from one another! Although this surprised me at first, I suppose it does make sense when thinking about the mediums themselves: it makes sense to have a big cliff hanger in a book series, but not so much in a movie when the people making it don’t yet know whether or not they’ll be more to follow. Still, I think it’s safe to say that I do prefer the movie adaptation over the book (gasp! A rare choice for Holly!). There’s just something about the ambience and atmosphere that the movie creates that really draws you into Lara Jean’s world.
There is one aspect of this book that I think reflects a larger issue prevalent in the Young Adult genre: how sex is discussed. Lara Jean’s worries about the ski trip—particularly whether or not Peter would try to convince her to have sex or do things like skinny dipping that she was uncomfortable with—made me sad, largely because I recognize them in myself and my friends when we were Lara Jean’s age. But no one should be able to make someone do things that they’re uncomfortable doing—and if they do, then it’s not a healthy relationship. I wish more books would stress that latter part—that it’s not okay or acceptable or healthy for someone to pressure you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable. While this book counters that a bit, I wish it did so more directly and explicitly.
Overall, I’m so glad I finally read this book and I’m really looking forward to continuing on with the rest of the series. Despite my qualms with the novel compared to the movie adaptation, I think To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a cute, thought-provoking, emotional rollercoaster of a novel that raises important questions about family loyalty, bonds between siblings, trustworthiness, and public vs. private personas—not to mention the fact that it’s a captivating story! I would highly recommend this to fans of YA, no matter your thoughts on Han’s previous books.
Have you ever read this book or seen this movie before? Thoughts on either or both of them? Would you recommend reading the rest of the series? Let me know in the comments section below!