To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han reads like a YA version of a rom com from the 90s/00s golden era. It’s a fun, fast-paced book full of strong family relationships and friendships and not just romance. The whole fake boyfriend trope is one of my favorites, and the way that Jenny Han blended it with a few other tropes made it feel fresh. I started off thinking the book was a boy-next-door/sibling’s ex kind of trope and ended up pleasantly surprised.
My favorite thing about the novel is Lara Jean’s flaws and her growth as a character not only in the first book but throughout the series as a whole. This really stood out to me after I watched the movie on Netflix, which took out a lot of her flaws and offered a more fantasized version of the story. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movies, the novel has so much more to offer teens by way of life advice and how to handle actual situations that they’re likely to go through. I also really appreciated how the focus of the novel is equally on her relationships with her family as it is with her romantic relationships. It was a nice balance.
The book is fast-paced, and I finished it in a little over a day. Jenny Han’s writing style includes shorter, easy-to-read scenes, which breaks chapters up into smaller bite-sized chunks to keep the story moving quickly. As a high school teacher, I appreciate this because smaller scenes like this makes books more accessible for teens, especially those who aren’t strong readers. It’s a really great writing move for pacing.
One thing that bothered me is that the major drama at the end of the novel is a video of Lara Jean making out with someone that gets spread around on Instagram. On the one hand, I hate that it’s a major plot point, and part of me wishes that the tension had come from something else. On the other hand, Jenny Han handles it well and even points out the sexism in how those kinds of things always unjustly affect the girls more than the guys. At the end of the day, my hatred for the plot point stems more from the fact that things like that really do happen. It makes me angry that girls go through this, and I’ve had students that had something like happen to them. As much as I dislike it, it’s empowering for teens to be able to see it in a novel and read about what a character does to overcome the situation.
All in all, I recommend To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to anyone who enjoys realistic teen high school drama and romance balanced with strong family relationships and friendships. I highly recommend this for students in the high school classroom for independent reading.
You’ll love this book if you like these tropes:
- fake boyfriend
- love triangles
- smart girl dating the popular athlete
- first love
- twist on the boy next door and sibling’s ex
This book is a great writing model for:
- fast pacing through shorter scenes
- scene transitions and flash forwards (how to get from one plot point to another without including every single thing the character does)
- family dynamics and sibling relationships
- character flaws and growth (this book is really strong with characters)
- building dramatic tension
- realistic setting
- first person limited
- present tense