Girlhood and Coming-of-Age Review: The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

I was on the search for a lightweight book to bring with me for a day full of travel, when the simple beauty of this cover, filled in tan, freckled skin, enthralled this fellow tan, freckled gal to pick it from the tucked away library shelf (the second time around). Funnily enough, I made a trek back to the library later that same day to grab the book because it wouldn’t escape my mind from that morning sighting when I had failed to pick it up.

Rainbow Rowell recommended Rufi Thorpe’s Dear Fang, With Love years ago, which meant for me that this author would nail down life specificities the way I enjoy in Rowell’s books. The Girls from Corona del Mar did not disappoint within the first page, reading about a loving family’s presence in Lorrie Ann’s life.The Girls from Corona del Mar bookspoils

And it took me a single sitting, reading swiftly through ten pages, to realize this was something to hold on to. I particularly enjoyed how the first couple of pages started with a tantalizing proclamation, “You’re going to have to break one of my toes,” then veered off to familiarize these characters, and ended the paragraph the same way it started so that we’re included in their motives; a full circle.

Set in the mid-90s, The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, through spot-on observations on life, growing together and apart, and always having that nature pull to return to each other. This read like an extremely attentive and introspective novel, full of vivid stories on Mia’s lifelong friendship with Lorrie Ann. My mind was bursting with all that I wanted to note down with each page I read. You know it’s a good book when you close your eyes at the end of the day and continue completing the story in your head.

Normally, friendships between girls are stowed away in boxes of postcards and ticket stubs, but whatever was between me and Lorrie Ann was not so easy to set aside.

I was surprised to find a unique storytelling mode where, instead of having two narrators who each tell their own tale, we follow Mia’s perspective of Lorrie Ann’s toils through the details Lor gives her best friend. You can peek this in the passage below:

“I love you,” Lorrie Ann lied. (Was it a lie? I never knew, exactly. I couldn’t understand her love for Jim and so I made my peace with Lor’s decisions by assuming her feelings for him were either feigned or a delusion, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps she loved him with the same animal part of herself that couldn’t let that baby go.)

I really liked how the author gained control with this little insert because Mia went a little off-task into Lor’s (the name Lorrie Ann is a pain to type) world, and the usage of first-person brought it back to the narrator.

I’ll be honest by saying right off the bat I was as wrapped around Lorrie Ann’s finger as much as Mia. Something about the utter kindness and goodness of her always shone so brightly on the page. It’s best told in this incident that captures Lor’s character through the author’s storytelling:

Once, when we were about ten, Lorrie Ann had been given too much change at the Chevron snack shop: she had paid with a ten, but the man must have thought she gave him a twenty. Lorrie Ann didn’t even notice until we were five blocks away, and then insisted we walk all the way back so that she could give him that unearned ten-dollar bill, which as I recall was soft and wrinkled like wilted lettuce. I am sure Lorrie Ann would never remember that day, such an insignificant anecdote, but in my mind it became a central organizing allegory about the differences between us.
Everything I had in life was half stolen, a secret, wilt-y ten-dollar bill that Lorrie Ann would have been too good to keep, but which I could not force myself to give away.

What makes so much of these eyeful remarks is how grounded in reality they are.

I was initially won over by Lorrie Ann with this truthful statement when faced clearly, at only eighteen, with an impossible choice: “But don’t you learn to love someone?” Lorrie Ann asked.

This right here is what too many novels fail to realize when they proclaim that love is all or nothing. Love isn’t some overbearing emotion that takes control of your sane thought process, love is something that you need to discover how to do with morality. “You don’t fall in love. You grow in love.” Love is recognizing the grandiosity of the person standing before you; love is including that person within your own being.

Her thought process of said impossible choice is demonstrated touchingly. She had this terrible death happen within her family, which she concludes as her fault for not being good enough or observant enough of the signs in her life, so she doesn’t want to set off something now that’ll make bad things appear back in her life. She chooses what she deems the right thing. What follows changes the trajectory of her life and Mia’s along with her.

And yet it was not me but Lorrie Ann whom the vultures of bad luck kept on visiting, darkening the yard of her house, tapping on the panes of her windows with their musty, blood-crusted beaks.“Wake up, little girl!” they cried.“We’ve got something else for you!

I felt suspended the entire time I read through this reflective and tumultuous story. So much of this novel is built on the many tragedies that befall Lor despite her best. And I kept wallowing over just how many they are… I mean, I came to relish whenever Lor walked back into Mia’s life, though knowing it’s only when something unfortunate happens makes it a bittersweet pill to swallow.

At a certain point, when the only times these two communicate is when something bad occurs to Lorrie Ann, it became an exhausting process of “Oh, what now?” It read like a condensed version of A Little Life, which I liked for the subtle quips on life but disliked immensely for throwing tragedy after tragedy my way. It takes away from the realness of life when we only meet these two characters when tragedy strikes. I wanted to spend more time in the in-between moments that make up a lifetime. When everything’s shit, however, it makes you appreciate little gestures of kindness, simple as a sweet nurse over the phone reassuring Lorrie Ann.

On a random note, I enjoyed how the title chapters are indicant of what’s ahead. It’s a little touch that shows how much a book means to an author.

And I’m still so in awe at how this book kept me enthralled page by page with its eyeful observations. This is an author that lets no moment slip by; you have to be really sensitive of your reality to succeed in writing down what you see in real life. And I, for one, am a complete sucker when it comes to introspective novels that reveal a deeper layer that lies within us.

The Girls from Corona del Mar nails down the complexity of maintaining a long-distance friendship. I admired, in particular, what was said about feeling like a character in a book, like, you don’t exist unless I pick you up.

“That came out awful, but what I mean is that when you are a half a world away, it seems more like something happening in a novel, you know, and we’ve lived apart for so many years now that you are kind of like that for me, except when I see you, then you are suddenly terribly real, and that made Jim’s death real and now I feel like I can’t catch my breath because everything is too real for words.”
Lorrie Ann looked at me critically for a moment, as though I were a gem she were assessing through one of those tiny eyepieces. Then she said, “I know exactly what you mean. For most of the year you are just a character in a book I’m reading. And then when you do show up, I think:  Oh, God, it’s her! It’s her. The girl I knew when I was a kid. My friend.”

This is such a sweet moment too real for words… And then this moment on how talking over the phone never fully captures the true experience in a single phrase: “I’m not sure,” Lorrie Ann said, and I wished I could read her face.”

They hold this interesting dynamic wherein Mia feels forever endowed by Lorrie Anne’s virtue. Her “opposite twin.”

I did not pursue my relationship with either for personal reasons, but because I sincerely believed they were the two best specimens of humanity I had yet to run across on the planet.

But when this book turns bad, it goes down all the way. It hit a point of no return after the 150-page mark, and I was left dumbfounded. I felt truly betrayed by the inorganic change in character happening halfway through. I had spent so much time with this book, singing its praises, only to have this abrupt tomfoolery wherein the most moral character had everything immoral thrown her way. I’m still in a state of shock. It came to the point where I had to point the book cover face down on my nightstand, till its fast return to the library the following day, because  I couldn’t bear to look at it without some semblance of anger flaring up inside me. It felt like two completely different stories were being told: One of genuine storytelling, using many sharp observations about family life, and telling a truthful tale of girlhood. And the other is focused on tearing down what we build up for the past 100 pages. Like, when Mia starts being the moral compass for Lorrie Ann that’s when you know something fishy is going down in the storytelling.

 

 

This unnatural change of pace made me feel beyond exasperated. It’s all that I had been warned about on immorality was shown with a turn of a page. W H Y ??? I’ll just say one thing: Those questioning the system of justice while claiming that ridding a child of its life because of a disability are exactly those that the system exists for. I mean:

“Zach’s suffering is not more than a child’s in the Congo just because we are genetically related.”

How is one supposed to react calmly to reading such utter BS? She’s talking so coldly about her own son, and I’m wondering how this is the same person from the start of this book. I cannot stand when good characters are destroyed this way. This felt like an amateurish and insensitive dissection on a character’s life.

I just don’t have the patience anymore to deal with such crude remarks being made for n, such as comparing genocides and reducing both in the process of doing so.

Cue my search for a new favorite book to calm my storming rage.

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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.

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The Big Finale: My Long-Winded and (Book)Spoilery Review of Always and Forever, Lara Jean

“There’s something romantic about waiting for a letter in the mail, waiting for your destiny.”

I wanted to devour this book whole, so chores and life getting in the way was beyond distracting, as Cath said expertly in FangirlReal life was something happening in her peripheral vision. So I’m thankful for days like Shabbat, giving me the opportunity to have a day to read through a book and discuss it with my family.

The vibe between Lara Jean and Peter in Always and Forever, Lara Jean is miles away from the hostile and petty ways in the previous book. It’s rather similar to their easy-going nature in the Netflix adaption of TATBILB, which was basically all that I wanted with rereading this series. It makes sense, too, given that this was the most recent to come out before the film.

Having read through all three books in this series, I can see now how the Netflix film adaption features different scenes and takes from each book. Like Peter and Lara Jean’s list of their favorite movies to watch together, or Peter’s comical line of comparing himself to the handsome hero in a film to fish out a compliment from the Song girls. Plus, LJ and Peter talking openly about their families, including his dad’s absence, which is a first for them.

As I wrote in my review for P.S. I Still Love You, it’s the careful, everyday observations that make my heart sing, and this concluding book was full of them, thankfully.

  • Peter K. becoming the next Chris Pratt with mastering braids, courtesy of Kitty so he can take care of Lara Jean when they head off to college:

“Who will braid my hair when I’m at college?” I muse.
“I will,” Peter says, all confidence.
“You don’t know how,” I scoff.
“The kid will teach me. Won’t you, kid?”
“For a price,” Kitty says.
They negotiate back and forth before finally settling on Peter taking Kitty and her friends to the movies one Saturday afternoon.”

It was sweet to see him practice throughout the book, not just mentioned once for entertainment.

  • I was so glad to see so many heart-warming moments that make me want to break out into giddy laughter with the main couple.

“I throw my arms around him and lift my chin expectantly, waiting for my good-night kiss. He nuzzles his face against mine, and I feel gladness for the fact that he has smooth cheeks and barely even needs to shave. I close my eyes, breathe him in, wait for my kiss. And he plants a chaste peck on my forehead. “Good night, Covey.”
My eyes fly open. “That’s all I get?”
Smugly he says, “You said earlier that I’m not that good at kissing, remember?”
“I was kidding!”
He winks at me as he hops in his car. I watch him drive away. Even after a whole year of being together, it can still feel so new. To love a boy, to have him love you back. It feels miraculous.
I don’t go inside right away. Just in case he comes back. Hands on my hips, I wait a full twenty seconds before I turn toward the front steps, which is when his car comes peeling back down our street and stops right in front of our house. Peter sticks his head out the window. “All right then,” he calls out. “Let’s practice.”

Peter turning back was C U T E.

Plus, Lara Jean does not disappoint in her follow-up response:

“I run back to his car, I pull him toward me by his shirt, and angle my face against his—and then I push him away and run backward, laughing, my hair whipping around my face.
“Covey!” he yells.
“That’s what you get!” I call back gleefully. “See you on the bus tomorrow!”

Ahhh! This scene is the peak of young and in love.

If there was ever a more fitting gif reaction…

I can tell now why Lara Jean ended up with Peter, instead of John Ambrose in P.S. I Still Love You: Peter lights up her life and the reading content to a more upbeat note, to paraphrase “her world is so much more with him in it.” So had she ended up with John, all we would’ve gotten from the book are scenes of the Belleview nursing home, reading, baking, and decorating Easter eggs, rinse and repeat (there’s only so many times this can remain steadfast interesting)… Honestly, 18-year-old Lara Jean leads such a Grandma-esque lifestyle (Chris can back me up; she even stole my line “Grandma Lara Jean”!) that those scenes of her timid nature are a snooze, until characters with a more lively personality, like Peter or Kitty or Chris, grace us with their presence.

  • I had an issue with Ms. Rothschild character, which I stay cleared off mentioning in previous posts because she wasn’t integrated into this family fully, but now that she is, I feel safe saying this just once: Why is it not mentioned that she’s Jewish? Rothschild is a well-known Jewish last name, so it’s odd that it’s not even mentioned or hinted at once in this series. The bare-minimum could’ve been provided in book two where, instead of mentioning the Christmas tree in her window, it could’ve gone to include the Menorah. All that echoed in my mind was this on-point line from Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon:

“…you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman,…”

  • This leads to another point on why I see Peter and Lara Jean not lasting past the first year at Uni. Beyond what she promised herself not to do for two books (go to college with a boyfriend), Margot’s mentioning the Asian association and  “going to college and finding your racial identity” stirred within me the memory that Lara Jean’s deepest desire is to feel close to her late mother’s memory and the Korean side of her family, so it seems natural that she’ll want someone that can grant her something Peter Kavinsky can’t. (Also, the surprise gift her dad granted her to spend a month in Korea with her sisters and Grandma for the summer only solidified this train of thought, in my eyes.) It’s also something Levi in Fangirl mentioned about outgrowing high school relationships: “We came here. We realized that we weren’t the only two datable people on the planet.”

And I think Jenny Han confirmed my theory when Lara Jean ponders the same for a moment:

“…and who knows what will happen between now and then? By then we’ll be such different people. Thinking of Peter in his twenties, I feel a sense of yearning for the man I may never get to meet. Right now, today, he’s still a boy, and I know him better than anybody, but what if it isn’t always this way? Already our paths are diverging, a little more every day, the closer we get to August.”

  • Also, thank you clearheaded Margot for putting Lara Jean in the right headspace when it comes to her whimsical fantasies. Margot tells her sister exactly what I’d been screaming at LJ for too long, and it was beyond satisfying to read line by line my head-dialogue on the page. I felt heard.

“I just don’t want you to live a half life at William and Mary because the whole time you’re wishing you were with Peter at UVA.”

It’s in those moments of looking into colleges that I dislike her clinging on so desperately to this anchor in her life. And Peter doing the same. If it’s for her family I wouldn’t have questioned or doubted it once, but for Peter…

“There’s so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be.”

  • Speaking of, this boyfriend of hers still falls prey to being a typical high school boy with his antics (I’m begging him to, please, stop falling prey to the miscommunication trope), which was my main hindrance with his character in P.S. I Still Love You. But he surprised me for the better with his considerate promposal, going all out to grant Lara Jean her little recreation straight from her favorite movie, Sleepless in Seattle (and it doesn’t end here with the recreations of her favorite rom-coms: Sixteen Candles is next).

“I squeeze the bear, and again he says, “Will you go to prom with me, Lara Jean?” “Yes, I will, Howard.” Howard is, of course, the name of the bear from Sleepless in Seattle.
“Why are you saying yes to him and not to me?” Peter demands.
“Because he asked.” I raise my eyebrows at him and wait.
Rolling his eyes, Peter mumbles, “Lara Jean, will you go to prom with me? God, you really do ask for a lot.”
I hold the bear out to him. “I will, but first kiss Howard.”
“Covey. No. Hell, no.”
“Please!” I give him a pleading look. “It’s in the movie, Peter.”
And grumbling, he does it, in front of everybody, which is how I know he is utterly and completely mine.”

It’s sweet to see his pure innocence in willing to do anything to see her smile. “Is there anything more intoxicating than making a boy bend to your will?”

It’s the tiny nuances of their relationship that stuck with me. From revealing their college acceptance letters to late night drive troughs. Though, I do feel like their interactions were quite timid in this book with essentially no one-on-one scenes the more we dived into the storyline. He gets a bit lost behind in all the shenanigans set up in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

I realized after reading for hours on end deep into the night, how deeply I missed the feeling of immersing myself fully into a book. There’s nothing quite as comforting and quintessential as reading a good book with no real life worries ahead to diverge your attention.

If anything, I’m glad this book doesn’t settle down for simply exploring everyday interactions, instead, we have something to propel the plot forward with exciting new components: Margot’s visit home (she keeps this family in-check) and getting the chance to look over her new boyfriend with the scanner of approval. John Ambrose’s surprise cameo, though, it’s odd we had to get rid of a certain bigger-than-life character to set this encounter up. Everything leading up to our small, local wedding. Lara Jean’s coping mechanisms with stress, including baking the perfect cookie (petition for LJ to start her own food blog!) and planning through every detail of the big day. Spur-of-the-moment road trips with Chris, who brings out the carefree, wild side in Lara Jean. The last day of high school and what that entails. But before all that, it all begins with college acceptance letters. The countdown is really on.

  • Speaking of… Lara Jean’s first worry upon not getting accepted into her dream school was her family, and I nearly shed a tear at that. LJ voices so many of the worries I have as a big sister, when she entertains the thought of studying far from home and what that entails in terms of leaving Kitty behind – from not being there to deliver the first period talk to missing birthdays, I was nearly crying by the end and yelling inside “THEN DON’T GO TO COLLEGE, LARA JEAN.”

“For the first time ever, all of the Song girls will be living truly apart. We three probably won’t ever live in the same house together again. ”

S T O P. This hurts.

And she nails it down with: “The thing is, you get used to it. Before you even realize it’s happening, you get used to things being different, and it will be that way for Kitty too.”

This is what scares me most: I don’t want either of us to get used to that reality. I want my sister to always have me available at a moment’s notice. This whole scene hit me too hard.

“At breakfast I keep stealing glances at her, memorizing every little thing. Her gangly legs, her knobby knees, the way she watches TV with a half smile on her face. She’ll only be as young as this for a little while longer. ”

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It’s interesting then to notice the clear parallel, in rereading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, between Lara Jean’s worrying over the dynamic change once Margot leaves for college, and her own journey of leaving home for the first time in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

“Margot, when you first went to college, what did you miss most about home?”
“Well, you guys, obviously.”
“But what else? Like, what were the unexpected things you missed?”
“I missed giving Kitty a kiss good night after she’d had a bath and her hair was clean.”
I make a snorty sound. “A rare occasion!”

I’m so thankful for this moment of bonding. It’s always the tiniest of observations that creep up on you.

I’m glad I went into this fresh after having revisited P.S. I Still Love You because when I tried reading this finale on its own, back when it came out, everything here just read as fan wish-fulfillment because I’d completely forgotten all specific characteristics and events from the series. Time and distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m glad to have completed this last book after being immersed in their world through the movie and my reread of the previous books (though I must say how taken aback I was that it’s been over a year since Always and Forever, Lara Jean came out). There’s something so wistful about coming-of-age stories that won’t seem to grow old on me.

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