I came late to the party for Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series. I just finished reading all three books for the first time, unlike those who’ve been following along since the titular book debuted in 2014. P.S. I Love You came a year later, and the final book — Always and Forever, Lara Jean — just this Spring. And I can’t say I’m mad about it, because the waiting would have been torture. (Note: Simon and Schuster Canada sent me the series to review.)
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved — five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say 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.
What could be more excruciating for a 16-year-old girl than to have her most private thoughts revealed? And to the very boys who never had the slightest clue how much she cared! It would be one of my worst teenage nightmares for sure, and to see it unfold for Lara Jean gave me all the feelings (including relief for having completed high school relatively unscathed). She’s a quiet, introspective girl who’s perfectly content to spend her Friday and Saturday nights baking, scrapbooking and watching movies in the bosom of her family, and I could totally relate. I love her relationship with her sisters and her father (‘tho it bugged me that she still calls him “Daddy” at 16), and for all of the upheaval at school and in her new love life they were a comfort and a consistent support. Her former-best-friend-turned-enemy, Genevieve, became tiresome with her antics and I was frustrated when Lara Jean’s “boyfriend” Peter (Gen’s ex-boyfriend) always put Gen first. But high school can be hell and romantic relationships as confusing as they are thrilling, and I think Jenny Han does a wonderful job portraying that.
P.S. I Still Love You Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one. But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once? In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.
Now here’s where the story really starts to find its stride. We see a power shift between Peter and Lara Jean — instead of our narrator playing second fiddle to Genevieve, here she clearly has the upper hand. Peter is more likeable for his fragile ego and Lara Jean more likeable for her quick and clever wit (something we didn’t see near as much of in the first book). I like her time volunteering at the nursing home and her friend Stormy (a resident with a storied past) is a hoot. Lara Jean’s circle expands and so does her confidence, opening up a door for a former crush to walk in. The love triangle that ensues kept me guessing ’til the end. There are some wonderfully romantic lines, some ways of describing things that are so Lara Jean. Like “Even saying his name is a remembered pleasure, something to savor, like a piece of chocolate dissolving on my tongue,” and “There’s still a bit of snow on the ground but it’s shabby, like a threadbare rug.” The writing is stronger is this book and it just feels like there’s a lot more going on to hold your attention. Yay for sequels that are as good (if not better!) than the first!
Always and Forever, Lara Jean Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans — but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?
This last book is my favourite of the three, and as much as I wanted to race through to the end to see where the story would end up, knowing it was the final one made me want to stretch it out and savour it. It’s a pivotal year for Lara Jean — her relationship with Peter is tested as they grapple with the prospect of staying together long-distance; her father is remarrying, causing tension with her older sister; and she gets a taste of the new freedoms and pressures that college will bring. Her struggles are realistic and her coping mechanisms true to her character: she obsesses about finding perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe and planning her father’s wedding instead of confronting tough decisions. Her friend Stormy once told her to “never say no when you really want to say yes” and I love how Lara Jean wrestled with that ’til the very end. I was happy with how the story concluded, but would gladly follow Lara Jean and her family into the next chapters of their life. I’ll love you always and forever, Lara Jean!
Simon & Schuster Canada sent me all three books for review purposes. All opinions are my own.