To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is book one in Jenny Han’s award winning Young Adult series about Lara Jean, a high school girl who discovers along the way who she really is and who she truly loves, all while documenting her feelings for certain boys through letters.
The novel centers around the main character, Lara Jean Song Covey, and her family and friends. At the start of the book, her oldest sister, Margot, departs for college in Scotland, breaking off her relationship with the family’s neighborhood friend, Josh Sanderson. With Margot gone, Lara Jean begins to reflect on her longstanding infatuation with Josh while realizing that her youngest sister, Kitty, also harbors feelings for him. After her and Kitty have a big argument, Lara Jean discovers that her hatbox given to her by her late mother is missing – and it contained all the love letters she wrote to five boys in her life but never meant to send. Once the boys receive their letters, Lara Jean is forced to confront both Josh, and her first kiss, Peter Kavinsky. This leads to Lara Jean lying to Josh about her no longer having feelings for him and beginning a pseudo relationship with Peter instead.
While many teenage romance novels deal with the topics of high school and young love, Jenny Han manages to offer a refreshing and genuine take. Lara Jean is written as a very smart and sympathetic character, not simply as a one-note female lead who falls head over heels with the first boy she sees. She has her reasons beyond looks (although looks are a part of it!) as to why she loves certain boys and allows herself to grow and develop with Peter throughout their “relationship," from friendship to something more. This teaches positive and healthy ways to approach forming and building a romantic relationship at a young age.
Younger readers will also be able to connect with the problems characters face because they’re realistic, like not fitting in with certain groups at school, feuding with an ex-friend, and seeing people you grew up with changing as they get older because of who they hang out with and how they choose to live their life during their schooling. While these are concepts that have definitely been explored in other teen novels, Han’s perspective doesn’t whittle down teenage issues into a simple melodrama or into a parody of high school. There are serious consequences to what characters say and do to each other that translate into real life and express to the reader how important it is to treat each other with love and kindness, to form strong relationships with family, friends, and romantic interests.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a fun, addicting, and promising first installment in Jenny Han’s series. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a smarter romance or to high school students. Be sure to check out the recent film adaptation on Netflix as well!