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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Rambling Thoughts after Watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

*rubs palms together * Where shall I start…

This adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been a long time in the making for 14-year-old me who was obsessed with the series. And I already have to note that the film was such a satisfying remake for me to experience on the big screen; I was grinning from ear to ear for the entirety of it. (My 14-year-old self would’ve definitely created a fan account for the film. That’s how good it was.)

When Lara Jean Song Covey’s love letters for every boy she’s ever loved are sent out, her life is soon thrown into chaos when her foregoing loves confront her one by one.
There’s so much I want to cover in my review, so I’ll settle for making a list à la Lara Jean:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • The icebreaker delivered in the opening scene of this movie settled my worries regarding the cliche rate it was going to settle for; there are zero to none.
  • Lana Condor, who stars as Lara Jean, channels in her character perfectly with the awkward fumbling, sweet and quiet nature. There’s one scene, in particular, where I could practically hear her thinking aloud simply by looking at her facial expressions that are so entirely Lara Jean. From stolen glances to her perfect comedic timing with delivering one-liners, she feels what Lara Jean feels.
  • The attention paid to details in this movie is beyond wholesome. From the aesthetic shots to the set design (there’s a red painting in LJ’s room to the far left that I was ogling the whole movie), and even the background matching Lara Jean’s outfits. It’s the tiny details that had me marveling me at how well they captured the tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
  • There hasn’t been a movie in a while that has enraptured me as strongly as this one. I zoomed through it, though, I had two excruciating (but necessary) breaks where I was practically on edge to return and complete my watching experience. This quote from my favorite book says it best: ‘Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.’ As I watched, I was reminded of all the films that evoked similar strong emotions out of me: Freaky Friday (2003), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), and The Last Song (2010). To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been added to my list of favorites, for sure.
  • This might also be a fitting time to share my favorite quote from Jenny Han’s novel that I was hoping to be featured in the adaptation:

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

The quote specifically wasn’t featured in the film, but the concept behind it sure was. LJ living this double life, where she walks around in a half-dream haze waiting to return to her ‘real life’ fantasy, is explored throughout her coming-of-age journey.

  • Which is where Peter Kavinsky comes in to save the day. His easy nature and confident ways always had me smiling like a fool in the first book. And it did the same old trick in this film, as well. Like I mentioned back in March when comparing him to Chris for my original Skam Book Tag: The Boy Squad.
    Though, now that I know of John Ambrose showing up, who stole my heart back in 2015 with P.S. I Still Love You, the jury is still out on my commitment to Covinsky. I willing to wait for more to be revealed in the sequel (she said, hoping the film received green light on continuing).
  • Back to the movie, though, I have to share some specifics that had me cackling, giggling, and squealing and everything in between:

#1 The horror music playing when the love letters were first revealed to be in the hand of the recipient. There’s no scary movie that will get your heart beating like that.

Those close-ups get me every time. It’s like there’s an ax in their hand for how dramatic the music made it.

#2 Jenny Han’s cameo, smiling so proudly at her own creations coming to life.

#3 Beautiful, cinematic movie shots. echo Shot Shot Shots vine

#4  The realness that is talking to yourself in your crush’s voice.

#5 Lara Jean’s shoes shown throughout the movie are show-stopping. They’re also the first thing Peter noticed about her, hence my choice of using the song ♪Fancy Shoes♪ by The Walters in my edit at the start of the review.

  • This movie also brilliantly covers specifics I didn’t even think about to make everyday interactions even more realistic. Like the scene where Peter and Lara Jean photograph each other to set as their phone background. This is like some modern HSM with Troy and Gabriella at the New Years party.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before excels at actually delving into Peter and Lara Jean’s interactions, wherein they actually get to know each other and listen intently to the stories they share. It’s quietly intimate moments like these that get me. Like Peter spending time with LJ and her little sister by staying in and watching movies:

I do have to say, though, that I’m low-key sad the movie didn’t feature the precious Halloween scene with Peter and Kitty bonding because my heart still gets weak whenever I think back to it.

Also: the couple completing domestic tasks together (like putting away the dishes) is my jam.Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

In short: I positively adored To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a faithful adaption to Jenny Han’s novel, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe having the sequel confirmed…

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Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.

It’s this opening quote that raised my intrigue by a tenfold on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I’ve read (and reviewed in praise) her previous Nonfiction works (Dear Ijeawele & We Should All Be Feminists) so I knew Adichie to be an author with a compelling way of words, but all that paled in comparison to the character building she excels at exploring in this fictional work of art.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

So, now comes the difficult part of trying to sum up my reading experience of this grandiose book. Which is also, coincidentally, the first lengthy book I’ve read in awhile, so I took my sweet time savoring its pages over the course of a week. And I’m glad I did because it gave me the chance to mull over my thoughts and feelings regarding Americanah.

This was love, to be eager for tomorrow.

First and foremost, how does the author succeed so seamlessly at fleshing out a side character even if they come to show only one time??? Time and again, I was dumbfounded at Adichie’s success in cultivating characters so full of life with a single page or two, sometimes needing only one paragraph. This is raw talent right here.

By introducing a new character that says something particular, she then gives background on why they would act that way. Like, Ifem meeting someone she catches keen on another’s affection:

“He was an impresario, well oiled and well practiced, the sort of man who did a good American accent and a good British accent, who knew what to say to foreigners, how to make foreigners comfortable, and who could easily get foreign grants for dubious projects. She wondered what he was like beneath that practiced layer.”

Or, Obinze’s catching Amara’s quick fix reminding everyone how she was wronged:

“Maybe he should go and find a Jamaican woman,” Amara said. Her husband had left her for a Jamaican woman, with whom it turned out he had a secret four-year-old child, and she somehow managed to veer every conversation towards the subject of Jamaicans.”

I’m a sucker for books full of eccentric and subtle quips on life, so Americanafell prey to my immediate affection. However, this is also where my later issues with the book stem from since I came to depend on those familiar, detailed intimacies on everyday life to propel the book forward more than the actual storyline. My mind was on a never-ending wait for more noteworthy remarks to drop, instead of caring for any actual development in the plot.

It was also a bit of a bummer to learn that the most important person in Ifemelu’s life could not have made me feel more numb. Sitting through whole chapters from Obinze’s viewpoint left those parts of the book marred for me, as a result. His grown persona, lacking that quiet strength that made up the arc of his youth, didn’t work in his favor, as well.

It’s the stark contrast between the joy and quickness Ifem’s chapters provided, in comparison to the snail-paced reading I experienced with Obinze that staggered me.

There’s also a comment in here that rubbed me the wrong way, regarding antisemitism:

“Don’t say it’s just like antisemitism. It’s not. In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy—they are so clever, these Jews, they control everything, these Jews—and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy.”

Why is she essentially telling me to be grateful for antisemitism?? Opting for the wrong approach where they teach hundreds of little girls to take it like a compliment when boys use abuse to get attention??? I listened to a lecture recently on antisemitism and seeing a comment like the above to excuse this systematic form of oppression made me livid.

But I’ll hit a bit of a pause on the negatives to highlight my more cherished moments from the carefully-crafted story that is Americanah. I noted down so many quotes from this book that I had to open up a separate document in my notes for lines I highly wanted to include in my review so they wouldn’t be lost amid scouring my never-ending pages. I looked something like this writing everything down from excitement:

My favorite of those include:

  • When this book expertly offers us an intimate look into Ifemelu’s young love with Obinze by including us in their private inside jokes that only those two get. Like, referring to him as “Ceiling” in public and making everyone wonder about the story behind it.

“Why do you call him Ceiling anyway?” his friend Okwudiba once asked her, on one of those languorous days after first semester exams. She had joined a group of his friends sitting around a filthy plastic table in a beer parlor off campus. She drank from her bottle of Maltina, swallowed, glanced at Obinze, and said, “Because he is so tall his head touches the ceiling, can’t you see?” Her deliberate slowness, the small smile that stretched her lips, made it clear that she wanted them to know that this was not why she called him Ceiling. And he was not tall. ”

  • The amount of specificity the author offers to her characters astonished me time and again. To quote Ifem’s blog, she offers “Lagos from an Insider,” and there’s an unequivocal honesty to it.

“You lied.” It was said with a kind of horror that baffled her, as though he had never considered it possible that she could lie. She wanted to say, “Blaine, people lie.” But she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” He was looking at her as though she had reached in and torn away his innocence, and for a moment she hated him, this man who ate her apple cores and turned even that into something of a moral act.”

I can’t get over that last line. Blaine was one of the more interesting boyfriends of Ifem’s past. I liked, in particular, their initial encounter on the train the very same day Ifemelu drops her efforts at assimilating with faking an American accent.

“It was not in her nature to talk to strangers on public transportation—she would do it more often when she started her blog a few years later—but she talked and talked, perhaps because of the newness of her own voice. The more they talked, the more she told herself that this was no coincidence; there was a significance to her meeting this man on the day that she returned her voice to herself.”

Theirs was a fascinating dynamic that I loved seeing chronicled.

“So when are you going to have the next salon, Shan? I was telling Ifemelu about them.”
When Blaine had told Ifemelu about Shan calling her gatherings “salons,” he had underlined the word with mockery, but now he said it with an earnestly French pronunciation: sa-lon.”

The peak of intimacy arrives through these details that expand on domestic life; sharing a life together means you know their true, intimate thoughts, so that in outside situations you’re like, ummm, that’s not what you told me in private…

  • On feeling stuck and unresolved in her relationship:

“But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her. She did not tell him this, because it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”

I read that last part twice to let its magnificent power sink in

“How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted? Blaine needed what she was unable to give and she needed what he was unable to give, and she grieved this, the loss of what could have been.”

  • Sifting through Ifemelu’s past and playing this game of catch-up, there hits a certain moment when things start to feel exhausting and previous plot lines are forgotten (like, Ifem getting her hair braided in present day, which we keep returning to) in the process of reading this richly told story spanning three continents and numerous lives. And circling back to the present after being so caught up in the past is when my enthralment for the story usually goes down by a notch… That is until another noteworthy line gets dropped on us.
  • Such as, the clapback delivered to Obinze at the hands of his wife, Kosi, after he confesses to his immature desires, left me feeling more empowered than the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl:

“It’s not about another woman, Obinze,” Kosi said, rising to her feet, her voice steeling, her eyes hardening. “It’s about keeping this family together! You took a vow before God. I took a vow before God. I am a good wife. We have a marriage. Do you think you can just destroy this family because your old girlfriend came into town? Do you know what it means to be a responsible father? You have a responsibility to that child downstairs! What you do today can ruin her life and make her damaged until the day she dies! And all because your old girlfriend came back from America? Because you have had acrobatic sex that reminded you of your time in university?”

I couldn’t have been more grateful to Kosi for saying what I always yell at men who want to leave their wives and families to satisfy some impulse.

Also: “acrobatic sex.” I C O N I C

I’ll leave this list of favorites on one last priceless moment because I’m this close to sharing the whole novel with you… I smiled at the below:

“It’s a cowardly, dishonest book. Have you read it?” Shan asked.
“I read a review,” Mirabelle said.
“That’s the problem. You read more about books than you read actual books.”

That is to say, I’m more than eager to discover the power of Adichie’s words in exploring her other books.


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