Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Title: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
Series: To All The Boys I’ve Love Before #1
Author: Jenny Han
Genre: YA, YA Romance, YA Highschool, Chick Lit, Contemporary,
How I got it: I bought it

Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

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.




Book Review: Sia by Josh Grayson


Title: Sia
Author: Josh Grayson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
How I got it: ARC from Netgalley
Expected Publication: November 2013

When seventeen-year-old Sia wakes up on a park bench, she has no idea who or where she is. Yet after a week of being homeless, she’s reunited with her family. At school, she’s powerful and popular. At home, she’s wealthy beyond her dreams. But she quickly realizes her perfect life is a lie. Her family is falling apart and her friends are snobby, cruel and plastic. Worse yet, she discovers she was the cruelest one.

Mortified by her past, she embarks on a journey of redemption and falls for Kyle, the “geek” she once tormented. Yet all the time she wonders if, when her memories return, she’ll become the bully she was before…and if she’ll lose Kyle.

This book started out okay. There was a promise of quality especially in the writing style. The grammar was very good and you can really tell that the author can write. Maybe just not a novel; not yet.

The problem was the plot. There was nothing outstanding about it. In fact, it’s like pieces of cliché after cliché sewn together. There were things that didn’t make sense and weren’t properly explained, as if we were expected to just go with it, accept it, even if the logic behind it was collapsing in itself. Sia as a character was frustrating; she accepted dinner from a stranger and got into his car; she has no survival instinct at all and little common sense. If Carol didn’t find her, I doubt she would have survived.

Eight days after she went missing, she almost got hit by a taxi. Sia was reunited with her family in the hospital and as it turns out, they are filthy rich. Soon she discovers that she’s the most popular girl in school and that she’s dating the football quarterback. With that level of wealth and popularity, you would wonder why no one ever found or recognized Sia on the streets of her own neighborhood in the eight days that she’s been missing. The author never explains it.

So Sia goes back to school. She learns that her best friend is kind of a bitch and that her boyfriend is a dumb jock and a jerk. Did I mention that Sia has amnesia? She has, and apparently, memory loss also erases your personality because Sia is nothing like her previous self anymore. She was heartbroken when people told her that she was way worse than her friends, the meanest of them all. Sia doesn’t remember being that way, and she wants to change.

Regina George turns into Mary Sue.

Sia makes a 180 degree turn around. She falls for the geek guy she used to harass. Sound familiar? Of course, it’s the plot of like, 10293840 teen flicks out there. The popular girl falls for the loser boy. There was nothing new or enticing at all about the plot of Sia. Not to mention the way the author dealt with conflicts in the book. They get solved right away, as in faster than you can say sabotage. There was no thrill or excitement in seeing the events unfold because they become painfully predictable, not to mention the dialogue that has a tendency to seem so scripted and too formal to be coming out of a 17 year old girl’s mouth. It felt like Sia was reading from a prompt in front of her because though you get this impression that there’s supposed to be emotions behind the words, the telling itself don’t really convey it.

But I must also admit that there were really beautiful passages in this book, evidence that the author can indeed, write. A few quotes jumped out at me, and the way that Grayson ended each chapter was impressive. What Sia lacked was a unique plot, one that could make it stand out because God only knows how many books and movies out there contain the amnesia plot, or the mean girl becomes good girl plot, or the popular falls in-love with the geek plot. I have no doubt that Josh Grayson has talent, it shows in this novel, but maybe it needs bit more honing.

I’ve read worse books than Sia, but not much. If you enjoy love stories and happy endings, you might like this book. As for me, it’s simply not my cup of tea, although I’d have to commend the author for trying. 2 coconuts.


Book Review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

15283043Title: The Distance Between Us
Author: Kasie West
Young Adult, Romance
How I got it: Borrowed from Kath

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she’s beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

This book is just pure cuteness and feel-good romance. It’s light and fun with just the right amount of dry humor and sarcasm to balance out the elements of a certified young adult novel. Although there was nothing special about Caymen as a protagonist aside from the fact that she’s kind of a smart-aleck, her personality and wittiness went well with Xander’s put-together rich boy appeal. And speaking of Xander, I was so glad this isn’t one of those books with the jerk-ish spoiled brat millionaire love interest that a lot of girls (and authors) seem to be partial to these days. Xander is charming, a bit stalkerish (in an arguably non-threatening way), and a little naive, which only served to make him that much more adorable. I liked that he is a perfect gentleman and though not a flawless character, was never an asshole to Caymen or to any of the other characters in the book.

It is not often that I come across a YA novel that makes me smile from ear to ear for hours on end. This is one such YA novel. Aside from Caymen and Xander, the rest of the characters are well developed and aren’t the usual overrated and tired cliche personas. Everybody contributed to the story; there wasn’t a character or a dialog wasted. Skye, Caymen’s best friend, is perfectly likable and isn’t one of those bitchy best friends that seem to have infiltrated major corners of the YA fiction universe. Even Toad, Skye’s kind-of-dumb boyfriend, has an actual realistic personality and was fun to read about.

In terms of The Romance, it’s definitely A+ for me. Conceding that it isn’t ground-breaking, world-ending, or gravity-defying, it still is a good one. Caymen and Xander’s story is sweet and built-up pretty well. What started out as an attraction developed into an unlikely friendship which in turn blossomed into an adorable, sweet, and definitely swoon-worthy romance. Like any other couple, Caymen and Xander encountered problems of their own, but these obstacles were dealt with in realistically reasonable ways. I liked the fact that it wasn’t an insta-love scenario and that despite the distance between Caymen and Xander’s worlds and personalities, the author managed to concoct a love story that is believable both in its simplicity and complication.

This isn’t my first time to read a novel by Kasie West but I must say that I am thoroughly surprised at how this book turned out to be. I read Pivot Point and I loved it, but I wasn’t expecting Kasie to do this good considering her genre-jump from Sci-Fi/Paranormal to Contemporary Romance. This is probably the cutest love story that I have read since Stephanie Perkins‘ Anna and the French Kiss, and despite the fact that I adore Etienne St. Clair, I might be just a tiny-teeny bit more in-love now with Xander Spence.

If you enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door, this book is for you. It is light and fun and a happy read, and if you’re looking for something to make you smile, The Distance Between Us by Kasie West is your next perfect read.