To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han was one of those books I saw on the library shelf and thought, That’s a nice cover, but YA romance isn’t my thing.
Fast forward to this past summer when I was knee deep in my Master’s program and needed something to take my mind off all the papers I was drowning in.
Who would’ve known that on that fateful summer evening, I would find myself watching Netflix’s original movie, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I may not be a big fan of YA romance novels, I have a weakness for high school romantic comedies. What can I say? They bring me back to my 90’s childhood, which was full of “Rom-Com” goodness like She’s All That, Clueless, and 10 Things I Hate About You (RIP Heath Ledger).
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before tells the story of Lara Jean: a teenage girl who loves to read romance novels, but has never experienced love first-hand. Her crushes are intense and consuming; so much so, that the only way she can express it is through letters. She’s written a letter to every crush she’s ever had (five in total) and keeps them hidden in a hatbox. Since this is a YA romance, naturally, the letters get sent out, and chaos ensues.
To say I enjoyed the film is an understatement. I adored it. Peter Kavinisky (one of the five crushes) owned my heart in this film, and I’m sure he’s stolen the hearts of others who have seen it as well.
Since books tend to be better than their movie adaptations, I figured I’d give this YA romance a shot to see if it would change my mind about the genre and bring back all the 1990’s feels I received from the film.
Dare I say it— the film is better than the book (gasp!). In fact, I’d recommend watching the movie before delving into the book.
Descriptions. The book lacks descriptions in a MASSIVE way. I’ve never come across a book where I had no idea where it takes place, when (as in months/seasons) it takes place, what the characters look like, etc. The only detailed descriptions I saw were of Lara Jean’s outfits— everything else was described like this: “we are in the kitchen,” “we are in the living room,” “we are at the diner,” “we are at the ski resort.”
As a reader, I want to be in the kitchen, in the living room, in the diner. I want to stand where the characters stand and see what they see. In this book, the setting is non-existent, which is sad when you watch the film and see how cute Lara Jean’s room is, how big (and gorgeous!) the kitchen is, and all the little details in between that breathe life into what is going on around the characters.
As for the characters, I don’t necessarily have a problem when they’re not described in great detail. Look at any of the classics— do we know what Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre look like? No, and that’s okay. What bothers me in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is you find out what kind of deodorant a character wears (Josh uses Irish Spring), and you still don’t know what they look like. Josh (one of the five crushes) is one of two characters in the whole book who is actually described. This is what readers get: “Brown hair. Not a special brown, just a regular brown. Green eyes that go muddy in the center” (p 26). I’m not sure what “special brown” hair is, but I am happy to know what Josh looks like. This happens in chapter six, by the way, and Josh was introduced in chapter one.
Besides the lack of descriptions, the book is riddled with awkward sentences. This one in particular made me pause:”It was never going to be me and him. Even though” (57). Even though… what? What is going on with this sentence?
Lara Jean is supposed to be sixteen years old, but the way she reads, she sounds thirteen…maybe even twelve. At one point, Lara Jean is with Peter at the diner-that-shall-not-be-described, discussing Peter cheating on a Spanish test. Out of nowhere, this happens:
“I have a sudden revelation. I lower my voice and say, ‘Wait…can you read'” (p 144)?
I don’t understand this at all. Peter is a junior in high school. If he couldn’t read, he wouldn’t have made it that far AND he read her letter! What Lara Jean said was so random and confusing, it actually took me out of the story, which is NEVER a good thing.
To top it all off, there were quite a few unnecessary dialogue tags that could’ve easily been removed and replaced with action. Dialogue tags are one of my biggest pet peeves in writing; tags should be used to let the reader know who is speaking, and that’s it. When writers get too creative with their tags, it can be jarring to the reader and take them out of the story. In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, there were tags like agree, cheers, assures, urges, suggests, crows, etc…these don’t help the dialogue. They’re telling instead of showing, and as I said before, they are unnecessary.
I wanted to like this book. I truly did, but the writing didn’t match up with my expectations. If it hadn’t been for the movie, I would’ve given up at chapter five. The only reason why I didn’t was because Peter Kavinsky hadn’t shown up yet, and I wanted to see how his character fared in the book. In the end, I only read the book to see how it compared to the film.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
This is technically 2.5 stars— the writing wasn’t good, but the story was still decent, which puts it at almost 3 stars.