I had a really hard time getting into this book during my first few attempts at reading it. I was actually prepared to just write it off as “abandoned” on Goodreads (I have a shelf for it) because for some reason I just couldn’t get over how annoying the narrative was. But then I look at the cover and it’s so pretty and it makes me want to give To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before a second chance because honestly — how can you resist a cover like that?
When I first heard about TATBL, I was so happy. It’s still a bit rare to see a POC/WOC to be the main character in YA and to have it be this mainstream and this hyped up incredibly pleased me. I was so excited to read it and then I did, and it was hard at first, but after two months, I tried again and found myself able to move on from the first chapter. It definitely took me a while, though.
Lara Jean is our main protagonist and the narrator of the story. She has an older sister Margot, who she looks up to, and a younger sister Kitty, who she looks after. Their mom passed away when they were little, which left them to the care of their dad. Josh is their neighbor and Margot’s boyfriend for a little while before he became her ex, and Lara Jean always felt a certain kind of way for him but she never told because he was dating her sister (duh, right?). And then suddenly, he wasn’t. Not long after that, someone starts to send out letters Lara Jean wrote for the boys she loved before; hence, the title.
As I was reading, I found Lara Jean’s voice incredibly difficult to follow. She’s sixteen years old but it felt like I was reading about a thirteen year old girl. The narration was childish and silly to the point of irritation, and I had to check a couple of times if I was reading the same book as everyone else who gave it a five-star review. It’s always a bad sign when I start getting annoyed by the character I should sympathize with, and even though I was able to plod through the book, Lara Jean’s immaturity did not stop bothering me.
I guess I get what Jenny Han’s inspiration for this novel is. It actually wasn’t that hard to figure out since I live in the Philippines and have seen a handful of Korean dramas. If you’ve watched a KDrama before, you’ll notice that the female leads are always kind of silly and quirky and a tad bit annoying, in a way that’s supposed to come across as adorable, only Lara Jean wasn’t adorable at all. In fact, I’m so indifferent to her. I connect to her in one way and one way only, and it’s in how she values her relationship with her sisters. But aside from that, there’s practically nothing about her that resonates with me. She felt… flat.
The same goes for her love interests in the story. I think for a successful romance to work, we have to be enamored with the objects of affection as much as the main character is. In this book, only Peter evoked some sort of feeling from me. Not that I’d bank on it all that much since it was mostly annoyance and indignation. Josh is so dull and boring and one-dimensional that I don’t have any feelings for him at all. It’s not enough that Lara Jean gushes over him like a fan-girl. It’s all telling and no showing, thus it failed.
Nevertheless though, I understand what the hype is all about. Despite the story being formulaic, it is a formula that hooked readers just like those KDramas have addicted millions of people. I think I might have to applaud Jenny Han for putting it in book form, even though I don’t feel very strongly about it. I wasn’t a big fan of those KDramas either, so it makes sense.
Personally, I think the story is lacking in so many ways, particularly character dimension and development. There was nothing “heartfelt” about this book unlike what the Amazon synopsis suggested, and the drama surrounding the story is shallow at best. If you’re looking for something insightful, I wouldn’t suggest this book at all. It’s like one of those cheap thrills that you only read when you’re extremely bored and not in the mood for something far more sophisticated.