Returning To the Starting Point: My (Book)Spoilery Review of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.”

Knowing this book would be waiting for me upon completing Always and Forever, Lara Jean made it a bittersweet reading experience, revisiting where it all started.

I took a bit of an odd journey with this series, what with watching the Netflix adaption first (having read the first two books back in 2015, I counted on my scarce memory to have my back when watching the film), then turning to reading P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han to refill on the charm that is John Ambrose McClaren, and having to top it off with Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Now, here we are at the end of the road with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before where it all starts: Chris’s leather jacket. She must’ve been right about how bomb that jacket is because it’s pretty much what stirred all the following events to fall into domino-like place.

All this leads to me finally taking notice of the titles for the series, which all add up to read like a letter: Book 1 is the opening line: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Book two is when you want to add something quickly, just before the end: P.S. I Still Love You. And book three is the big finale: Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Let’s recount:

  • Coming into this from the last book, it’s interesting to see the many parallel lines drawn between Margot and Lara Jean’s coming-of-age, from leaving home for the first time to first loves and taking care of your family. Margot is one of the most fascinating characters to me in how she took on so much responsibility at such a young age, so my heart went out to her when she finally shared just how much she has to calculate her every move because there are two little sisters looking up to her:

“You know what Mommy would always say to me?” She lifts her chin higher. “ ‘Take care of your sisters.’ So that’s what I did. I’ve always tried to put you and Kitty first. Do you have any idea how hard it was being so far away from you guys? How lonely it was? All I wanted to do was come back home, but I couldn’t, because I have to be strong. I have to be”—she struggles for a breath—“the good example. I can’t be weak. I have to show you guys how to be brave. Because . . . because Mommy isn’t here to do it.”

She couldn’t even afford to be vulnerable about her aching for them because she needs to set an example. My heart sings when she’s with her little sisters. She somehow knows exactly what to say to get them moving in the right diction.

“When other adults find out that my dad is a single father of three girls, they shake their heads in admiration, like How does he do it? How does he ever manage that all by himself? The answer is Margot.”

  • Which brings me to my next point: LJ’s infatuation with Josh returning conveniently with Margot’s absence is more of a sign of her clinging onto someone that’s similar to her sister, rather than LJ’s radical love for him.
  • I appreciate how close the film for TATBILB stuck to the source material. I recalled zero-to-none events going into, so it caught me off-guard that the running track where Peter first tells Lara Jean about receiving the letter is present in both the book and movie.

The edit nails it, especially in this scene:

During chemistry, Peter writes me a note that says, Can I come over tonight to study for the test?
I write back, I don’t remember study sessions being in the contract. After he reads it, he turns around and gives me a wounded look. I mouth, I’m kidding!”

  • The film succeeds in granting book Lara Jean her wish during the horror revelation of Peter Kavinsky’s letter:

“It came in the mail? To your house?”
“Yeah.”
I feel faint. I actually feel faint. Please let me faint right now, because if I faint I will no longer be here, in this moment. It will be like in movies when a girl passes out from the horror of it all and the fighting happens while she is asleep and she wakes up in a hospital bed with a bruise or two, but she’s missed all the bad stuff. I wish that was my life instead of this.”

  • As soon as I started reading so many incidents from the book came rolling back into my mind, and it made me recall how utterly hilarious To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is. I read it right after completing the Harry Potter series with The Deathly Hallows, after which I felt… hallow… so having this book suck me right in, which I deemed an impossible task right then, had me beaming.

I remember, in particular, hysterically laughing at LJ’s incident with Margot’s doll (bonus points for naming her Rochelle) and the toothpaste. It had me in fits of laughter for days, so much so that I took a screenshot to keepsake on my phone for those much-needed pick-me-up moments. For old times’ sake, I have to share it here:

“Rochelle was Margot’s only doll. She adored her. I remember begging Margot to let me hold her, just for a second, but Margot always said no. There was this one time, I had a cold, and I stayed home from school. I crept into Margot’s room and I took Rochelle, I played with her all afternoon, I pretended Rochelle and I were best friends. I got it into my head that Rochelle’s face was actually kind of plain; she would look better with lipstick on. It would be a favor to Margot if I made Rochelle more beautiful. I got one of Mommy’s lipsticks out of her bathroom drawer and I put some on her lips. Right away I knew it was a mistake. I’d drawn it on outside of her lip lines, she looked clownish, not sophisticated. So then I tried to clean off the lipstick with toothpaste, but it only made her look like she had a mouth disease. I hid under my blankets until Margot came home. When she found the state Rochelle was in, I heard Margot’s scream.”

That scream in my head is so dramatic.

Funnily enough, revisiting those scenes that were so big in my head, now reduced themselves on the page. Same with the epic Halloween scene that I had a weakness for, where I recalled Peter and Kitty bonding, but in my mind, it was with words and not through their (epic) dance-off. In reality, I only laughed at the memory of laughing while rereading.

But still, we have to share them moves:

“Our big finish is splits, with our arms crossed for emphasis.
Peter’s bowled over, laughing his head off. He claps and claps and stomps his feet.
When it’s over, I try to catch my breath and manage to say, “Okay, you’re up, Kavinsky.”
“I can’t,” Peter gasps. “How do I follow a performance like that? Kitty, will you teach me that pop-and-lock move?”
Kitty gets shy all of a sudden. She sits on her hands and looks at him through her lashes and shakes her head.
“Please, please?” he asks.
Kitty finally caves in—I think she just wanted to make him work for it. I watch them dance all afternoon, my little sister the ninja and my pretend boyfriend Spider-Man. First I laugh, but then a worrying thought comes out of nowhere—I can’t let Kitty get too attached to Peter. This is temporary. The way Kitty looks at him, so adoringly, like he’s her hero. . . .”

Honestly so, so mad the movie missed this epic opportunity to show them off like this…

  • I have to circle back on Lara Jean and Peter way back to her first letter because I didn’t remember a thing she wrote, so I have to say I was beyond impressed with thirteen-year-old LJ:

“And now that the year is almost over, I know for sure that I am also over you. I’m immune to you now, Peter. I’m really proud to say that I’m the only girl in this school who has been immunized to the charms of Peter Kavinsky. All because I had a really bad dose of you in seventh grade and most of eighth. Now I never ever have to worry about catching you again. What a relief! I bet if I did ever kiss you again, I would definitely catch something, and it wouldn’t be love. It would be an STD!”

Savagery.

I low-key piqued at future Lara Jean in Always and Forever, Lara Jean because she had the perfect opportunity to revisit this letter she wrote to her seemingly dream-boy to catch her reaction now, and it was totally brushed aside. The timing was perfect, as well, given her confused state on how things will move forward, she could’ve gone back to how it all started.

  • Since this book chronicles the start of Lara Jean’s thing with Peter, it now makes sense as to why in the following books LJ is constantly on his case, bickering and teasing, given that is how they started out. They’re pretty much hate-to-love, at this point.

“I think throwing Peter off guard could be a fun hobby for me.”

Since Peter K.’s confidence depends upon the approval of others, they start hitting it off when Lara Jean gets along well with Peter’s lacrosse team buddies. Also, of course, his mother’s approval.

Personally, I really came to appreciate the tiny gestures and acts of kindness Peter extended towards Lara Jean, even something as simple as holding her backpack for her. Or that incomparable scene of him coming over to Lara Jean’s to invite her to a game, which leads to him helping out with the cupcakes for Kitty’s PTA bake sale, featuring that one moment that makes everyone stop for a beat:

“Well, if it’s for Kitty, then Kitty should be helping.” Peter hops off the stool and comes up to me and slides his hands around my waist and tries to untie my apron strings. “Where is the kid?”
I stare at him. “What . . . are you doing?”
Peter looks at me like I’m a dummy. “I need an apron too if I’m going to help. I’m not trying to get my clothes all messed up.”

Kitchen scenes with getting all up in each other’s personal space GET TO ME. I can’t help but think of this moment with Noora and William from Skam when he’s preparing her cocoa drink and subtly leans over:

When Peter ends up helping Kitty out with her experiment, while waiting for Lara Jean to get ready, it was the cherry on top of one of the best scenes in the book for me.

“I run to Margot’s room for her big grandpa cardigan, and I pass Kitty’s open door, where I see Peter and Kitty lying on the floor, working with her lab set.”

While I’m at it, talking lazy circles around each other in the library is something I’m always here for:

“What do you and Chris even talk about?” he asks. “You have nothing in common.”
“What do we talk about?” I counter.
Peter laughs. “Point taken.” He pushes away from the wall and puts his head in my lap, and I go completely still.
I try to make my voice sound normal as I say, “You’re in a really strange mood today.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “What kind of mood am I in?” Peter sure loves to hear about himself. Normally, I don’t mind, but today I’m not in the mood to oblige him. He already has too many people in his life telling him how great he is.
“The obnoxious kind,” I say, and he laughs.
“I’m sleepy.” He closes his eyes and snuggles against me. “Tell me a bedtime story, Covey.”

Also, the quick road trip to an estate sale, bothering to bring each other food (donuts and a sandwich) and getting to know each other by asking random questions, like specifying your absolute favorite food, or racing The Epsteins, was a nice bonding moment. Though his constant lateness is starting to trip me up…

He’s very loyal to his people, but I feel like the main conflict for him is that he doesn’t quite know where his loyalties lie within this book: Genevieve or Lara Jean. Which makes for some hair-pulling annoying scenes.

  • I got weirdly emotional with Chris in this book, what with returning to her younger days and her angst after seeing her in Always and Forever, Lara Jean. My heart squeezes at the memory of them. She’ll grow so much.
  • My only hindrance is that I chose to read this on Yom Kippur, knowing this was the only light-hearted book that would keep me intact, but I didn’t account for the fact that Lara Jean’s whole life circles baked goods and at a certain point it got to be too much for me. There are SO MANY MEALS discussed here, including the intricate details of making them, and I was bursting to shout “Some of us are hungry, Lara Jean…”
  • I was a tiny bit worried that I’d get stuck on the fact this is the Hebrew translated version since I’m always wondering how it was worded in the original when reading translated fiction. But I was pleasantly surprised to find said feeling diminished while reading TATBILB (could be because I originally read it in English, but still). Interestingly enough, Gen and (Lara) Jean are written the same way in Hebrew: ג׳ין, which made me ponder.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55It’s been so long since I devoted myself so fully to marathon a series of books. The last was with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, and not to sound like Granny Lara Jean, as Chris (and Peter) so lovingly calls her, but it was the best of times. If you have a good book waiting for you at home, practically nothing can touch you.

If you’re interested in buying To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, just click on the image below to go through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!

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