Reader Review: To All The Boys I Loved Before #1 – Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before:  ★★★★

Despite this book catching my eye quite a few times during my trips to one of my preferred book warehouses, I didn’t actually take the time to pick it up and consider reading it until recently due to the fact that I just didn’t think it would suit me. Though that changed when I decided to finally start the series due to Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and I was definitely surprised at the outcome.

If you’re not familiar with Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, there are basically 13 different categories that you have to read a book for – and one of those categories this year is; ‘the first book in a [new-to-you] YA series’. After seeing this book as a suggestion to be a contender of the category, I decided that I would just read the damn book that I kept eyeing on the shelf, and, even if I didn’t like it at all, I would still be completing something in the sense that I would be able to tick the category off the challenge list. 

The book follows the story of teenage Lara Jean who has written 5 different love letters to different boys throughout her life, though with no plans of sending out the letters to who they’re aimed at. The letters are her secrets – she pours all of her feelings into them to be able to move on from those emotions – though, suddenly, her letters get mailed and find themselves in the hands of those she has written to. Her relationships, both within her love life and her family life, escalate to levels that she had never expected, and she finds herself caught up in a web of secrets and conflicting, confusing new emotions that put her to the test when it comes to her sisterly bonds.

One of the reasons that I was hesitant about reading the book is due to the way that the premise and the overall plot sounds in it’s entirety. It doesn’t sound like something that would necessarily be interesting to me personally because I’m not a big fan of romance plots and that of the like. However, that being said, as soon as I started reading the book, I got drawn into the plot. It reads really well so it’s very easy for the reader to get drawn into the storyline and want to continue exploring it. I was able to finish the book in less than a day because I was honestly glued to it, even though I still maintain that it’s not the type of book that I would usually read. The story progresses at a good pace, it doesn’t feel too rushed, and the reader can devote their full attention to the context of the novel which allows them to immerse themselves very quickly.

The thing with the plot idea is that it’s very typical – that’s what initially put me off of reading the series as I felt it would follow too many overused tropes. Indeed, what I assumed was correct to a certain extent, though I was surprised at the fact that I found the plot making use of the cliche tropes actually worked in the context of the book itself. There are a lot of stereotypical romance tropes and predictable elements to the story which means it’s not all that surprising but it still works and it’s still interesting. I was expecting a lot of it, but I still felt fully involved and interested in the story. 

There are a lot of other smaller details of the story that I enjoyed as well which made the story feel more well-rounded and developed to a fuller extent. I enjoyed the representation of the main character being biracial as that felt refreshing in the context of the plot and tropes as well, and I thought the sister relationships dynamics were well-constructed, complex, and very interesting. I enjoyed exploring the relationships within the family more than I did when it came to the romantic relationships, which consolidates that the book is about family love just as much as it is about romantic love. The smaller, seemingly unimportant settings in the story also made it feel more authentic and realistic, and I appreciated the odd traits given to the characters to make them feel more ‘real’ and like they have more depth (for example, Lara-Jean’s love for scrapbooking). The book also has some good messages regarding double standards for younger readers, which I feel is appealing for the right audience demographic. 

Though, the book definitely wasn’t perfect and the characters weren’t without flaw. One of my biggest issues with the book is that the main character seemed quite naive at times – annoyingly so. Despite being 16, there were instances throughout the storyline where she kept acting much younger than she’s actually meant to be, and that did lead to me finding the character quite frustrating in an array of different situations. Due to this, I also wasn’t able to connect to the character and bond with her, despite being of close age, because I felt that she acted too immature. 

Though, despite this, I still found myself immersed in the plot of the story, and I finished the book in no time at all. The ending doesn’t leave you on a cliff-hanger, there aren’t dire questions that need to be answered, but it leaves you with the obvious potential for the story to be unravelled even further so it makes the audience want to continue reading. This is effective because it maintains further attention and, personally, I already know that, despite the books not being of my usual taste, I will be continuing with the series. 

To put it simply; I didn’t think that I would like this book due to the fact that it follows an overused plot that doesn’t necessarily spark my interest. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself completely captivating by the well-written story despite my hesitation. The plot does make use of cliches and tropes, but it does so in a way that means it makes the context of the story more interesting. I didn’t like the complete characterisation of the protagonist, and I found myself quite irritated with her at certain points, though the story was still constructed in a way that kept me engaged and kept me reading. 

Thanks for reading this short review. I really think this provides a good example of a situation where a reading challenge can help you discover things about your own reader life and preferences that you potentially wouldn’t have considered beforehand. I don’t know whether I would’ve given the book a chance if it weren’t for the fact that it cropped up to suit a category of the Read Harder challenge that I am taking part in, though, if I hadn’t read it, I would’ve definitely been missing out. 

Thanks for reading this short review and I’ll write you later. 

If you’re a fan of teenage romance and typical tropes/cliches regarding sticky love situations, then you’d love this series. 

If you’re somebody who’s just considering expanding their reading habits to explore more genres and more plots, then I would recommend checking out this series and giving it a shot at least because, like myself, you may be surprised at the fact that, despite the fact that it probably shouldn’t, it does work and the result is a good one. 

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