I’ve seen this one around, especially on bookstagram, for years, but was never overly interested in it until recently, when I heard about the Netflix movie coming out. Then the hype got out of control…and I totally fell for it. Plus, of course, you all already know that I cannot watch a movie without reading the book first. Call it a personality flaw if you want. In any case, it turns out falling for the hype was totally not a bad thing.
The basic premise of this story is one that really only works in rom com type stories, but is cute as a button for all that. Lara Jean Song has for years written love letters to the boys she’s fallen for. They are secret letters. Letters that she uses to get all her feelings out…and then buries in a hatbox under the bed to forget about/leave behind. But then, somehow, someone sends these letters. And all the boys she’s loved before find out exactly how she used to feel about them. Cue: embarrassment, drama, and elaborate cover-ups to throw people off the real trail. Cue also: Lara Jean’s coming of age, learning to share her emotions in real life and finding out who she might, truly, be in love with.
This was such a sweet little story. I’m sure we can all list out a couple [secret] middle and high school crushes that we had, how we thought they were so real, and how totally and completely embarrassed we would have been if the object of our affections had actually found out. It’s such an emotionally relatable situation and, as such, opens the door almost immediately for connection between the reader and the protagonist. I enjoyed that each person in the story was real, and thus flawed (except perhaps the dad, who was endearing to a degree that I wish was actually more true-to-life). There were no perfect characters, which is so true for high schoolers (and everyone). Each of the possible “loves” had some great qualities and some less attractive ones, while Lara Jean herself was the right mix of sure and insecure that you often see in high school ladies.
There were definitely some stereotypes played throughout the story, like the asshole jocks, the bitchy pretty/popular girl, the best friend who’s super into sex/substances, etc. While those may be stereotypes because they are often true, I’m not always a fan of books that use them to an extreme. On the other hand, I loved the little glimpse into Korean culture, at least (in particular in this book) from a food perspective, and some of the insights from Lara Jean into the common issues/questions she faces, like who to be for Halloween that’s ‘believable’ and the oft-asked “where are you from?” I was also fascinated by the little details/ways that their father tried to keep Korean culture and influence in their lives after the death of their mother – it’s super sweet and, I can only imagine, probably difficult for him (emotionally and as far as effort/time, because it’s not his natural culture). Relatedly, I loved the relationships between Lara Jean and her sisters and their father and how those developed after their mother’s death. They were some of the most touching moments of the book.
As far as the writing, it was simple and unpretentious, in a way that fit the story well, allowing it to be told smoothly and without distractions from either overwrought or sloppy wording. And it was a quick read – I sped right through it because I couldn’t wait to see how each of the relationships played out and which one(s) might actually be “the real thing.” It only took me a couple hours to read the whole book.
I knew that this was the first book of a trilogy, but I was a little bit hoping that the end would be more wrapped up. The thing is, I’m not sure that I loved it enough to keep reading the series (or at least not right away). However, there was a little more open-endedness than I would have liked and so I’m not totally convinced that I won’t keep going, eventually, if just to see where things end. And believe me, I love that, being stretched out like that, the relationship building has a chance to be more realistically timed – there’s no insta-love, which I am here for, especially considering the way things stood at the beginning of the book. It’s just that this wasn’t blow-my-mind good enough to run to the library for the next book immediately, when there are so many other books on my TBR. At the very least though, I really enjoyed the reading experience.
Bottom line, there is never a bad time for a heartwarming little rom-com that leaves you smiling wistfully at the end. And this book delivers that, all wrapped up in a nice, neat package with a big bow on top.
**Movie thoughts: a quick addendum to the book review. Basically, I loved the movie. It’s both perfectly adorable (who can resist that?) and a wonderful addition to the (finally) increasing amount of Asian representation in lead movie/tv roles. It’s a wonderful adaptation of the book that also wraps it up a little more than is done in the book, so there’s no sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for a sequel. Plus, that kind of final, happy, ending leaves you with all the good feels. I actually think this is one that will go on the very short list of movies I like even better than the book. Even if you don’t care to read the book, I definitely recommend watching the movie!