Saturday, 13 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 11: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" by Jenny Han

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Lara Jean Song is the middle of the three Song sisters and the quieter and most retiring of them. She tends to internalise her feelings rather than voicing them. Because of this, she has a hat box where she puts letters she's written to all the boys she's ever had a crush on. She pours out her thoughts and feelings and then hides the letters away. One of the boys she once had a crush on is Peter Kavinsky, one of the coolest guys in school. The other is Josh, the boy next door, who was a big part of the Song girls' lives even before he started dating the eldest, Margot, who Lara Jean idolises. Not wanting to be a bad sister, she's never said anything about her infatuation, even though she liked Josh long before he first asked her sister out.

In addition, after their mother died, Margot pretty much took on the mother role in the household. The girls' father is a doctor who loves his daughters and does his best by them, but he's a doctor and works a lot. Now Margot's moving to Scotland to go to university (in St. Andrews - where I spent four years at Uni myself!) and Lara Jean is worried about having to take over a lot of her responsibilities. Then Margot breaks up with Josh (because their late mother warned her against going away to college with prior romantic entanglements holding her back), and Lara Jean doesn't know what to think or do. She's worried not just about Josh, but about what their dad and little sister Kitty will think about it. Also, while she's in no way over her impossible crush on Josh, she can't imagine him and Margot not getting back together eventually.

Then, one horrible day, Lara Jean realises that her letters have been sent out, as both Peter Kavinsky and Josh confront her with a lot of questions. She discovers that her hat box is gone and her distracted father may in fact have given it away to a charity shop. Letters that Lara Jean had no intention of ever letting anyone read are in the hands of boys she has to face every day, and Josh especially is confused and wants answers. In a move to convince Josh that she no longer has any romantic feelings towards him (she's still convinced he'll get back together with her sister), she makes a deal with Peter to pretend to be dating each other. Peter just broke up with the Queen Bee in school, Genevieve, and wants to make it clear to her that he's not exactly pining to get back together. So now Lara Jean is confused about whether the attentions from Peter are genuine or just an act, and torn between wanting to make Josh jealous and keeping him away from her, not wanting to betray her sister with her continued interest.

There's a lot in this book that I should like, but somehow the sum of the parts just really added up to a big bowl of meh. Lara Jean is a sweet girl, but frighteningly inexperienced and sheltered for a 16-year-old. She seems scared of everything, from driving a car to going grocery shopping. I've seen several people criticise her voice, saying she sounds much younger than she is, and I can't really blame them. In many ways, I suspect I was very similar to Lara Jean when I was a teen. I had zero experience with boys or social situations, I lived mainly for my books and TV-shows and I wouldn't have known how to interact with a handsome boy if my life depended on it. It's just that I wouldn't have wanted to read a book about my teenage self, either. It would be pretty dull.

I really like that Margot was going to Uni in St. Andrews, not Oxford, Cambridge, London, Edinburgh or even Glasgow. The mention of Raisin Weekend made me cheer, but it's not enough to raise my rating of this book a whole half star, as I first thought. My favourite character was probably Kitty, Lara Jean's little sister, who is a lot more worldly and interesting than her sister. I never entirely got what was so great about Josh or why Lara Jean would even want a guy who picked her sister over her. Peter seemed pretty decent, but he and Lara Jean should have been better at communicating and initially, at least, he's clearly a bit too hung up on his bitchy ex.

There is a sequel to this book, which ends in a pretty open ended way, but I'm honestly not sure I'm all that bothered about reading more about Lara Jean. If the second book was about Kitty, it would be a different story, but more of Lara Jean's emotional back and forths, insecurities and teenage angst - no thank you. She develops a bit throughout this story, but not enough for me to actually spend more time reading about her.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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