To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a YA series by the American author of Korean descent Jenny Han, published between 2014 and 2017. Lara Jean has two sisters, Margo and Kitty, and they live with their father, while their mom died years ago. Whenever Lara Jean is disappointed in love, she writes a love letter, addresses it and puts it in a box. One day, all the letters get mysteriously sent out, which gets her in trouble.
In this blog post, I compare the books to the films, giving my opinion on both. The spoilers are in italics.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (1)
I listened to the audio versions of the books, and it took me some time to get used to Lara Jean’s voice; I found it a bit annoying at the beginning. It sounded like a very dry, emotionless description of how she likes her sister’s boyfriend. However, I now think that it works, that her way of speaking/thinking is how a 16-year-old would speak and think. Still, the writing tends to be quite repetitive (My whole body went …). Also, Lara Jean acts younger than her age; it seems like her only true passion is baking. I know that people are different, but she’s probably not all that relatable to most teenagers. Lara Jean’s friend Chris, who is categorized as “easy and wild”, seems more like a normal teenager: she parties, flirts and is rebellious. In a way, this is good because we get a variety of different teenagers (Lara Jean, her sister Margo, Chris, Peter, Gene, etc.), but we’re still stuck with Lara Jean’s cookies and ridiculous Valentine’s cards most of the time.
I found it kind of ridiculous that the two sisters made a pact that they won’t have sex before marriage when they were in middle school. Who makes a pact like that? It’s not even about religion or about some Korean tradition because their mother sounds like she was pretty liberal, and she’s been dead since they were kids anyway, so it’s not like she’s influenced them much in their more grown-up years. Another funny part is when both sisters are so appalled by the fact that Peter cheated on a test. They talk about it as if he robbed a bank or something. He cheated on a test, throw him in jail! Have you ever cheated on a test? Wait, did you have sex before marriage?? Oh my god, did you have sex with someone who wasn’t your boyfriend? You can’t sit with us. Go away.
The main actors are good, especially Peter (Noah Centineo) and Lara Jean (Lana Condor). It’s a bit weird that Lara Jean looks so much more Asian than her sisters, like she’s not mixed race at all and they are (which is because Condor is 100 % Vietnamese, while Anna Cathcart (Kitty) and Janel Parris (Margot) are actually mixed race). I don’t think this is a big problem, but they don’t really look like sisters. Lara Jean looks too perfect most of the time, her outfits are always spot on, as are her makeup and hair. I know that the book version of the character also pays attention to that, but I doubt that she wakes up with fake eyelashes and lipstick every morning. It feels like they were afraid of filming her with her eyes looking natural or something. Both Kitty and Margot are much younger in the books, the actresses are too old to play them. Also, Kitty is supposed to be more savage and less quirky, while Margot more serious and bossy. As for Chris, I imagined her to be more badass and Gene to be more bitchy. Peter was too nice, nicer than the book version.
P.S. I Still Love You (2)
The worst part of this book is the unnecessary love triangle. It feels like John Ambrose McClaren is added just to create some drama, while Peter is still seeing Gene all the time. I found their relationship a bit odd: it’s unclear at what point he stops being interested in her and whether she’s still interested in him. The main good part of this book is the nostalgia. What I love about Lara Jean as a character the most is how deeply she feels everything, how afraid of change she is and how much nostalgia she feels for middle school and then for high school, even before it ends. I enjoyed reading about the treehouse and time capsule thing, remembering middle school and old friends getting together again.
I think that the film did what it could with the story. In the book as well as in the film it seems like John Ambrose is perfect for Lara Jean, better than Peter. I definitely liked the book version of him better than the book version of Peter. Then again, Peter is exceptionally nice in the film, so he seems like the better choice because he was there first.
What I didn’t like was how the film handled the whole Gene thing (in the third film too). In the books, they’re enemies, and they never become friends again. In the film, they meet to talk and it’s all so honest and emotional, which just never happens in the book. I think they shouldn’t have done that because some friendships just end and there’s no need to sugar-coat it.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean (3)
I enjoyed the topics in this book (they were more relevant than in book 2): finishing high school, getting accepted to university, leaving home, and long-distance relationships. I love Lara Jean’s anxiety about being accepted to university and about being long-distance with Peter. This is the book in which she finally becomes relatable to me.
However, it was predictable that she wouldn’t be accepted to the university of her choosing. She, however, really grew as a character because she decided not to listen to what her mother said about going to uni with a boyfriend or to imitate what Margot did with Josh (break up). She decided to be herself and do what she feels like, and that’s great.
Lara Jean’s fear of change and leaving home is probably related to her mother’s death. She doesn’t want to leave her father and sister because she feels guilty and wants things to stay the way they are. As someone who also lost a parent as a child, I can relate to all those feelings. Still, I think death isn’t discussed enough in this series. Eve Song died from a head injury caused by slipping on a recently mopped floor and hitting her head. If this happened in the house (which I presume it did), everybody would be scared of it happening to someone else, and the place where it happened would never be the same again for the family. Also, Lara Jean would probably be paranoid about her dad or one of her sisters dying. The dad would probably have had more trouble handling his job as a doctor and raising three daughters, twelve, ten and three at the time of the mother’s death. This is a lost opportunity for some realness.
As for sex … oh, god.
Sex is replaced by baking in this book. Would Peter, a hot 18-year-old who has been having sex since the age of 14, really have waited for Lara Jean this long and without one complaint? I’m not saying that I expected him to try to push her into doing it, which would obviously be wrong, but he never even mentions it. But okay, let’s make it romantic, pretend that we’ve never met a teenage boy and say that Peter would be extremely okay with it. Would Lara-Jean, an 18-year-old who has been with Peter for over a year, really not want to sleep with him, though? Why not? She’s not religious, her family isn’t either, her father literally gives her condoms, and she doesn’t even seem to be very scared or anything like that. The pact with Margot is off, she broke it years ago, and Lara Jean is crazy about Peter. I still don’t understand her reasoning behind it.
There’s also this mad scene when Margot comes home from Scotland, where she’s been for almost two years, she’s almost twenty and she brings her boyfriend. Her dad doesn’t want them to sleep in the same room, and Kitty and Lara Jean are shocked because Margot doesn’t agree with or obey him. The dad has literally given Lara Jean, who’s two years younger, condoms. I don’t get it.
The film handles the story well again. Everything else I have to say is spoilers.
I think that losing your virginity is an important topic in a teenage novel. Why did the author decide to leave it out? It’s not like she’d have to give a full description of a sex scene, but the event actually taking place would’ve improved the book. There’s this scene when they’re on holiday and Lara Jean finally decides that she wants it, but then Peter doesn’t want it because he thinks she’s leaving him. At this point, I became convinced that the author just didn’t want to include it, even though she discussed the idea of it throughout the book. I don’t know if this has something to do with the book being YA or with Korean culture, but I really think it wasn’t the best way to handle it. She could’ve done it without being explicit, which the film managed brilliantly: they do it after the wedding, but we don’t actually see any action, which is completely appropriate for a teenage film.
The third film did an exceptionally good job, not only when it comes to sex, but also to wedding planning. The first was included (even though it never happens in the book), while the second was just briefly mentioned. In the book, Lara Jean is extremely annoying with the wedding planning, and I’m glad that I didn’t have to relive this in the movie. As for Gene, they make it seem like the girls will be BFFs in college again because they’re going to the same one. Lol.
In general, I’d say that the films are better than the books. They leave out some unnecessary things and focus on the important stuff. They also add the unnecessary Gene thing, but I forgive them for it because they weren’t scared of including sex, which can be and often is a part of teenagers’ lives, and it shouldn’t be taboo.
Despite all my negative comments, I did enjoy the books. They were lighthearted, presented a family with one parent, a life with sisters, which I never had, and made me think of elementary and high school times, which were sweet and cute; the book made me as nostalgic as Lara Jean. I also enjoyed all the bits of American and Korean culture that I got out of the books, all these things about food and clothes and cosmetics. I did find some things very predictable, like the university thing, all of Gene’s appearances, the love triangle …
All in all, I don’t regret reading the books, even though I sometimes wished they would finish already. I kind of enjoyed watching the films too, even though I didn’t manage to do it without scrolling through my Instagram feed. If you have nothing better to do and want to take your mind off life and take a trip back to high school (unless you’re still in one, in which case you’re the target audience), I think both the books and the films are a good choice. But they’re nothing more than that, I’ll never read or watch this series again.
You can find my review of a very different (and much worse) YA series here.