Well, hello there you adorable, sweet, lovely, bubbly, fun, all the cute adjectives in the English language, book. Why yes, I do see your flaws, of which there are many, but for some reason, my brain seems to have short-circuited to the point where I can’t seem to get enough of you.
TATBILB (gosh, what an acronym, I need a breather after just typing that), is one of those young adult contemporaries that people seem to bring up among a couple of choice favourites every time the genre is mentioned in conversation. You know the ones, Anna and the French Kiss, Fangirl, The Fault in Our Stars, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I’ll Give you the Sun, All the Bright Places, etc, etc. I’ve had some good experiences with YA contemporaries and some not so good. So even though I’d already committed to giving this one a go, I went into it expecting it to be silly, childish and disappointing.
Apparently, I really need to stop going into things so cynical because occasionally the hype train does, in fact, pick some winners. And yes, I know basically everyone out there has already read this one but eh, I’m going to review it anyway because cute contemporary. And yes, I’m going to use heaps of completely unnecessary gifs.
Who, What, Where?
Our story’s protagonist is sixteen-year-old Lara Jean. She’s half Korean, dresses in outfits almost bordering on costume, bakes great cookies, is the middle child of three sisters, and has never had a boyfriend. She has, however, been in love – five times. And for every boy she’s loved, she’s also written a letter. Not to send of course, because that would be embarrassing. She keeps these love letters hidden away in a hatbox in her closet, where no one will ever find them.
That is, until one day the letters are mysteriously sent out in the post. Can you say, awkward?
The bigger problem is the fact that one of LJ’s five happens to be her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, which is a big no-no in any sense of the girl code. In order to convince Josh her feelings are long over, Lara Jean makes a deal with Peter, another of her letter receivers. By pretending to be in a relationship, LJ can throw Josh off the scent and Peter can hopefully show his controlling ex, Genevieve, that he’s over her. It’s the perfect plan, because neither of them has feelings for the other, right?
Reasons You Should Read this Book
Finally, an Asian Protagonist!
Alright, half Asian but still! Just like with Simon, it was nice to have a little bit of diversity going on in the MC department for a change and to see some representation of families that don’t often get featured at the forefront of YA. Lara Jean being mixed race also provided the chance for Jenny Han to raise a few of the more frustrating parts of being of Asian descent in a western country. Some of these are small such as feeling the pressure to dress up as only Asian characters on Halloween. However, others are bigger, like having to deal with the constant insensitive questions about where you come from (no really, where? No, I mean, where were you born?) and trying not to lose connections to your heritage whilst being surrounded by another culture 24-7.
The Romance is Adorable
Come on, this is not the sort of book you read if you aren’t keen on romance. Don’t try to deny it, you care. As I’m sure you worked out from the synopsis, there are two main love interests to Lara Jean in this story, Peter and Josh. Yes, it’s the beginnings of a love triangle but don’t worry, it never really becomes an annoyance here as LJ’s focus is always on one person at any given time and there’s none of that annoying ‘who do I choose’, ‘oh, woe is me’.
Josh is sweet, if a little boring, but as I’m in the camp of if you’ve dated someone’s older sister you MUST NOT go after their younger sister, I can’t root for him to win this one. You move that little butt on, mister. Peter, on the other hand, is that cocky, amusing guy who acts like an ass but actually has deeper emotions and a good heart. In other words, he’s the character archetype I’m a real sucker for. Every damn time. I was a goner from the moment he showed up with his fancy car wearing that stupid grin.
“That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good.”
The relationship development here is predictable but it’s still really nice to watch the two characters bounce off one another in cute sections of dialogue. While Peter encourages LJ to get out into the world instead of just fantasizing about it, LJ brings out more of Peter’s sweet side. Even just seeing Peter hang out with Lara Jean and her little sister Kitty is delightful and by the time feelings develop, they feel well earned.
It has it’s Giggle Moments
Is it even a good YA-contemporary if you don’t let out a few snorts once in a while? A few of my personal favourites:
“Oh, I used to lie all the time as a kid.” I didn’t think of it as lying, though. I thought of it as playing make-believe. I told Kitty she was adopted and her real family was in a travelling circus. It’s why she took up gymnastics.”
“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told him, even bigger than the lie about my so-called dead twin Marcella. Until a couple of years ago Josh thought I had a twin sister named Marcella who died of leukemia.”
“Your house is lovely,” I say, even though it isn’t. It’s old; it could use a good cleaning. But the things inside it are lovely.
“It’s empty now. All my things sold up. Can’t take it with you, you know.”
“You mean when you die?” I whisper.
He glares at me. “No. I mean to the nursing home.”
Easy, Breezy, Short and Sweet
TATBILB is your typical YA-contemporary. It’s a short read and despite some sad moments for LJ, it’s still light and fluffy. Jenny’s writing is really easy to read – there’s no unnecessary descriptions, Lara Jean’s internal monologues never drag on for too long, and even the quieter plot sections still feel like fun time with the characters. The book is a great choice if you’re looking for something to break up some of your denser reads or if you’ve been stuck on another less engaging book for a while. Read this one in only a few days (or one sitting) and you’ll feel ready to tackle the rest of your TBR with enthusiasm.
Why You Might Want to Give it a Miss
The issue of Lara Jean
Alright, let’s deal with the big one first. On the whole, I didn’t mind LJ as a protagonist (her cringey use of “Daddy” aside). She’s relatable, sweet, and tries her best to do the right thing. BUT. LJ hasn’t really experienced much of the world. She’s never been in a relationship and her sister, Margo, has protected her from a lot of responsibility since their mother’s death. Because of this there are moments when her narration comes off a lot younger than sixteen. She’s naive, romanticizes things, doesn’t handle awkward situations very well, and is a little over the top at times.
For this reason, a lot of people are going to find her childish and annoying, and that’s completely okay. If you can’t handle a slightly sheltered protagonist with a lot of learning to do, then maybe this one isn’t for you.
The whole reason the events in the book kick off is because someone decides to send out Lara Jean’s box of love letters. With this in mind, you’d think that part of the story would be devoted to figuring out who send the darned things, yes? Wrong. While LJ considers this very briefly at the beginning of the book, she then forgets about it completely until the answer is given to us at the very end. The culprit is ridiculously obvious but it would have been nice to have a little mystery and some more potential suspects.
Wait, it’s Over? (Except not Really)
Everyone knows that the best part of a rom-com is the end, the happily ever after where everything is resolved in an unrealistic but still love-heart eye worthy reconciliation. Well folks, if that’s what you want here, better move along because there ain’t none of that. TATBILB, unfortunately, ends in a blunt and somewhat unresolved fashion. Yes, we all know there’s a sequel but would it kill you to give a girl a bit of temporary closure. I feel like the Rolling Stones, where be my satisfaction Jenny Han?
Despite its flaws, I had a great time with this one. Perhaps it’s a little bit of a guilty pleasure read but TATBILB is just one of those books that I can’t help but love because of its tone and the fluffy, warm feelings it gave me while reading. It’s cute, and makes you feel good about the world for a little bit, so plot issues withstanding I’ll unashamedly admit that I’m so excited to read the rest of the series. Sue me. Lara Jean and Peter forever.