Rating: some mispronounced K-pop lyrics
Highlight of note: Lara Jean's annoyance that whatever she was for Halloween people would assume it was an anime reference due to her being half-Asian.
Will you read the next in the series? Maybe, but I'm leaning toward no.
The basic premise of this novel is that a girl writes love letters to boys she likes as a way of emotional purge. She doesn't send the letters, but she does, for reasons that aren't clear to me, put them in completely addressed envelopes. Naturally, they get mailed by someone who isn't her.
I never did understand why the letters were actually addressed completely. I can understand putting them in envelopes with the guys' names on them. But she actually looked up their addresses and used those? That seems weird. It seemed very much like she was doing it for the sake of it one day initiating a plot.
If you've heard of this book, it's probably because it was recently made into a film that's done very well on Netflix. It gets mentioned a lot alongside The Kissing Booth. I watched that one before reading the book and spent the whole time thinking it would have worked better as a novel but then not wanting to read the novel because the movie underwhelmed me so much, so I decided to just read this one. Had I remembered Jenny Han's previous The Summer I Turned Pretty series, I'm not sure I would have bothered.
Like the other series, this one is full of melodrama and triangles where I don't think the MC belongs with either love interest. It was about as "meh" as a book can be and still have me finish it. And the conclusion is far from satisfactory. It leaves the reader going, "Yes, and?" in a way that makes it obvious there's a sequel but didn't leave me eager to read it. I might read it and the third volume, but certainly wouldn't if I had to pay for them. (The only reason I read all of The Summer I Turned Pretty was that I had purchased a boxed set.) My library has them, but they estimate a ten week wait and while I put holds on them, I may well lose interest before it's my turn to read them.
I can't quite say for sure what kept me from enjoying this book more. Lara Jean is likable enough, although maybe a bit of a Mary Sue as her main flaws seem to be caring too much about her sister and being nervous about driving. I didn't really care too much for either love interests, at least as love interests. The Neighbor Boy who spent two years dating her sister is clearly confused more than truly interested and the other one I've nicknamed Dudebro, which sums him up pretty well. There's a lot of attempts to make Dudebro deeper and more likable than it initially appears he will be, but most of them felt a little inauthentic. And other than enjoying kissing the guy, Lara Jean doesn't seem to feel much in the way of passion for him. He and Lara Jean argue a lot, but it never feels like the suppressed attraction sort of arguing.
Lara Jean lives with her father and two sisters, although one sister moves to Scotland near the beginning. (Her mother is dead. I'm starting to wonder if I should list "Number of dead parents" at the top of all YA novel reviews.) They are maybe a little too perfect a family unit. They're all very caring and considerate of one another. They argue some, yes, but always forgive each other pretty easily. It's nice and all, but a lot of time is spent on them even though they offered very little conflict. There's some adjusting to the sister, who is the highly-organized type who takes care of everything, moving away, but Lara Jean seems very understanding of her absence rather than having to fight back hurt and anger over being abandoned. The father commits what I consider an egregious affront to Lara Jean's personhood when he goes into her room and starts giving away things from her closet, but the only thing that seems to annoy her about it is that she suspects him of giving away a box that had letters she didn't want mailed in it.
Overall, this book fell flat for me. It had plenty of melodrama, but nothing I'd consider flair.
Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.
4% Lara Jean is very self-aware and mature. I like her. And her family seems really great and not all dysfunctional. (But maybe too functional?)
I do wonder how much money they have though. College in Scotland sounds really bloody expensive, even for the child of an ob/gyn.
And I'm not sure if I should roll my eyes at the dead mother. Why a dead mother? To make the sisters closer maybe? Or the father somehow more likable than he would be if he were merely divorced? Why are dead parents so common in fiction?
12% Poor Lara Jean. I was so busy relating to her nervousness about driving and propensity for getting lost that I didn't see the accident coming either. And I'd also be silly enough to just let the other guy drive off just because his car wasn't hurt. (She says the accident was her fault, but based on my understanding of VA law, I think they were both at fault. It was a four way stop, so even if the guy had right of way he also had an obligation to avoid a collision.) Also, she doesn't seem to realize how big an asshole the guy was. You don't just damage a teenager's car and flit off without guiding them through what to do even if you don't think you share fault. He was described as older than her dad, so he was certainly old enough to know you take care of kids. I bet the self-centered prick voted for Trump.
13% Her dad asked her that watch something with him and Lara Jean said no because she didn't want to move her crafting project. It just about broke my heart. If she'd realized how much he needed her, she would have taken her project downstairs and sat with him. But teens never do understand that, do they? Not unless you're actually crying and spelling it all out for them. She acknowledged earlier that he misses her sister, but is too wrapped up in how much she misses her sister to worry about him, as I think most people, and certainly most teens, would be. It was the realistic reaction, but it still brought tears to my eyes.
20% ...And at least one of the letters in Lara Jean's closet have been mailed! Presumably by her kid sister, who is mad at her and acting out, probably in part because she's upset about the eldest sister leaving. It seems like this is the start of the actual plot and that it took a while to get here. I didn't really mind waiting for it, but I'm unsure if we should have had to.
21% Apparently her dad took the hatbox with the letters to Goodwill? Why would he do that without looking inside it? Hell, why would he be in his teen daughter's room at all? He didn't previously seem like the type to completely ignore his daighters' privacy. Wouldn't a gyno realize there are likely many things in there he doesn't want to see?
29% Enter the fake-relationship trope... My money is on this being a variation where the target does get jealous and want to get back with Particpant A and then everyone is happy because the people pretending to be together actually DON'T belong together. Because I'm really not sensing that they should hook up.
52% I'm issuing this dialog a yellow card. I'm okay with our dudebro showing unexpected depth, but he also seems to be channeling someone's recently deceased grandfather.
55% The more time they spend together, the more I wonder if Lara Jean will wind up with Dudebro in this book. I've now remembered that the last series I read by this author featured a highly melodramatic love triangle. I had figured that was Lara Jean, Big Sis, and Neighbor Boy, but maybe Dudebro's involved too.
61% Well, now Lara Jean and Dudebro are arguing like they're going to break up.
65% And now Lara Jean and Dudebro are being cutesy. Whatever. I feel I should be more invested in this relationship, but I'm just not.
75% Neighbor Boy angry kissed Lara Jean! Proving both Dudebro and me right about him liking her. Although I think he's probably more confused than genuine.
76% Dudebro has totally forgotten they're not really dating, hasn't he?
78% You know, I think Dudebro's reaction to the proposed pretend breakup may have actually sold me on him.
81% "It seems like every day the sun takes longer and longer to come up." It SEEMS like that? It's mid-December. The sun actually takes longer to come up every day until the Solstice. It is actually happening, not just seeming that way.
83% PSA: Do not, under any circumstances, let your friend teach you a snowsport unless your friend is actually a snowsports instructor. It is bad for your education, your mental health, your equipment, and your friendship.
83% PSA 2: WEAR A HELMET.
89% The necklace from Dudebro's mom's store has been sold. He must have noticed Lara Jean visiting it.
91% Melodramatic intersecting triangles are a go!
Lara Jean starts writing Dudebro a letter. If you want to know what he does about it, you have to read the next book. I probably will, but I wouldn't if the library wouldn't let me do it for free.