Book chat: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeIt’s been too long since I sank into some solid young adult fiction. And with my limited attention span these days? Well, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before really hit the spot.

The middle of three daughters, Lara Jean Song is used to hovering behind her successful older sister — often feeling a bit adrift behind Margot’s perfection. But with her sister heading off to college abroad (and breaking off her relationship with Josh, once Lara Jean’s own crush), this Song girl is ready to shine.


When a secret box of Lara Jean’s letters disappears, she is suddenly forced to confront her crushes — past and present — as her notes land in mailboxes around town. Lara Jean has always taken to letter-writing as a way to release her feelings for the boys she has loved: her first kiss, her summer camp love . . . even Josh, her sister’s ex-boyfriend.

As her crushes receive her notes and press her on her feelings, Lara Jean is forced to own up to her emotions — even as a faux-relationship with Peter, a popular boy on the rebound, begins to actually blossom. On the home front, Lara Jean is charged with caring for Kitty, her sassy younger sister, as well as her warmhearted but busy, bumbling father.

Though she’s initially mortified by the letters, are they actually the key to moving forward?

Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sweet story with plenty of family dynamics, high school loves and entertaining escapades to delight its audience. Though it’s described as the tale of Lara Jean confronting her crushes, it’s also about family and self-acceptance.

Have you ever written a letter you never intended to send? As a teen, I frequently drafted notes to crushes and ex-boyfriends as a way to “get out” whatever angsty, complicated, 16-year-old drama I had stored up without fear of embarrassment or reproach. In fact, I had a floppy disk (a floppy disk! You too will get old someday, kids) full of such missives.

Had someone found my super-private collection of letters to the adorable guy in my math class or my first kiss or first love and actually sent them, I’m pretty sure you would have had to pry me out the dark cave I would have made my new home. But Lara Jean? She’s a pretty resilient, courageous cat. As a narrator, she’s entertaining and matter-of-fact — the sort of person who doesn’t realize she’s funny, which is the best kind.

Though I enjoyed Lara Jean’s burgeoning friendship/relationship with Peter, the charming boy-about-town, the real highlight here was the Song sisters’ dynamic. Especially tight-knit since their mother’s death, I found their closeness heartwarming and realistic. I loved that Lara Jean appreciated Margot even more after she was off in Scotland, and young Kitty is a wise-beyond-her-years and fun character pivotal to the story.

A breezy and enjoyable novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before demands little of readers except their rapt attention . . . which you’ll happily hand over. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need!

4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘We’ll Always Have Summer’ by Jenny Han

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the first two in this three-book series, this post will contain spoilers for the previous two — but not this one.

The final book in Jenny Han’s much-loved Summer series peeked at me from my bookcase for more than a year, waiting for the moment — the warm, sun-baked moment — when I would finally throw it in my beach bag. Determined to finish the books at my own beloved beach house, I finally read We’ll Always Have Summer in the Outer Banks this year. And I cried.

Oy, these books. Gut-wrenching.

Considering I’m a sucker for anything relating to those tender, tantalizing days of first love, Han’s series seems tailor-made for me. In the final installment, years have passed since Susannah’s death — and the Conklin and Fisher families have scattered. While Belly and Jeremiah are wrapping up another year of college, Conrad has fled to the West Coast. Though everyone tries to soldier on in Susannah’s absence, they miss her — and their carefree summers at Cousins Beach — terribly.

While Belly still nurses a quiet love for Conrad, her relationship with Jeremiah has blossomed. Inseparable at the college they both attend, life seems perfect — or as close to perfect — as it can be . . . until an indiscretion threatens to separate them. When Jeremiah makes an impulsive declaration, life careens in an unexpected direction. Belly attempts to throw herself into a new life with Jeremiah, but she can’t shake the feeling that she’s uniting herself with the wrong Fisher brother . . .

And oh, angst. Drama. Tears. An epic love triangle.

I love these books.

Han once said that fictional Cousins Beach is a “not a real beach, but it’s sort of based on Cape Cod and also the Hamptons. And just a splash of the Outer Banks!”

Allow me to speak for every reader ever and declare, I want to go there.

Spending more than a few minutes in Belly’s Summer world, it’s not hard to conjure the best days you’ve ever spent along a sandy shore. Despite their often heavy subject matter, there’s something so light and free about Han’s stories — and that’s why I couldn’t wait to fall into her work again in June. I waited almost a year to learn what became of Belly, Jeremiah and Conrad. That is some self-control, my friends.

We’ll Always Have Summer brings us an older, more mature Belly — but she’s just as undecided about Conrad and Jeremiah as ever. Her first love is and will always be Conrad, but the affection she feels for Jeremiah seems to trump those feelings. She tries valiantly to forget the brief time she spent as Conrad’s more-than-friend, which seemed more dream than reality . . . but Belly can’t escape the way she felt (and still feels?) for him.

Other readers have complained that Jeremiah and Conrad did a “flip-flop” of personalities in this final book. While Conrad was always the broody one who couldn’t make up his mind, Jeremiah was the constant in Belly’s life: loyal, sweet and endearing. When Conrad acted like a jerk, it was Jeremiah who swooped in to comfort her. Conrad was the “bad boy” of the Fishers — the one who would ultimately break Belly’s heart. “So what’s with Han doing a 180, then?” others cry. To which I say: they changed. Jeremiah got older, started hanging around with his fraternity brothers, started acting like . . . a college guy. And Conrad, always the more serious of the two, went in a different direction. Just when Jere starts acting like a clown, Conrad gets his act together. It’s a pretty big role reversal, yes, but it made sense to me. Given where they were in life and what they were after, I got it.

By the end of this book, I was thumping my fingers against the text and begging Belly to make the right decision and crying at the pain on Conrad’s face and wishing everyone would just stop being so incredibly stupid. In this final narrative, we’re finally given access to the deep passages of Conrad’s mind — which was a real delight. Like getting the long-awaited key to a very complicated puzzle. But I wanted to shove him into action, too.

Just as in The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You, Belly’s story flips between the past and present. Though it took a bit of getting used to, I’m very accustomed to her style now — and I really like it. I genuinely didn’t know where Belly was headed or which way she would sway, which made the read very suspenseful . . . almost to the point that I had to flip ahead to learn what she would decide. I forced myself to stay in the moment, though, and didn’t spoil it for myself.

And now I’m sad it’s over, of course. I long for it to be summer again. Perhaps Han will humor us and write a “Where are they now?” follow-up a few years on?

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416995587 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘It’s Not Summer Without You’ by Jenny Han

This is the second book in a three-book series.
May contain spoilers.

Where once Belly looked forward to summer with breathless anticipation, nothing is the same this year. After the death of Susannah, her mother’s best friend and Belly’s second mother, a dark pall has been cast over the warm weather months. Susannah’s teen sons have struggled to move forward, but Conrad and Jeremiah haven’t easily dealt with the death of their mother. And now the house at Cousins Beach, the cozy place they once shared with Belly and Laurel and Steven, is empty.

As Belly spends her summer days mindlessly drifting at home with Taylor, her hometown best friend, she doesn’t expect to get a call from Jeremiah — or to learn that Conrad has gone AWOL from his freshman year of college. As Jeremiah and Belly reunite to search for him, Belly must confront the feelings she once had — for both boys.

Jenny Han’s It’s Not Summer Without You, sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty, is the sort of lovely, atmospheric book in which I love to get lost for hours. Han’s Cousins Beach reminds me so much of my own summers sharing a beach house with my extended family, and that’s exactly why I waited to read this one on our annual vacation in the Outer Banks.

I wasn’t disappointed. Though It’s Not Summer Without You is really a quiet sort of novel, it’s impossible not to get absorbed in Belly’s world. I related to her intense feelings of first love that is tinged with grief — and that pain is only broadened by the loss of Conrad (as a boyfriend) and Susannah (completely, irrevocably — dead after battling cancer). Though Belly is so young, she has to deal with so much heartbreak. Though I wished more than anything she wouldn’t treat her own mother so poorly, I didn’t fault her for her behavior.

Not a lot happens in these books, but that’s really not a problem for me. Han wastes no words in setting her scenes, giving us flashbacks of Belly and Conrad’s doomed relationship while still staying rooted in the present. The evolution of our narrator’s feelings was very well-drawn and moving, and I felt like I’d really gotten inside Belly’s heart by the close of the story. And was I overjoyed with the resolution? Yes.

These books are about first love and family — the one we’re born into and the one we choose. Though romance is a key part of Belly’s life and the narrative arc, it’s not the sole focus of Han’s novels. The characters are dimensional, interesting and very flawed — and I could almost see a prequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty telling the story Susannah and Laurel’s friendship. Their bond, even after death, is irrevocably strong.

Han’s Summer series is almost universally beloved — and I can see why. Eloquent, heartwrenching and perfect for the summer season, It’s Not Summer Without You is another win by a talented author.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416995560 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ by Jenny Han

Belly is ready for a fantastic summer. Gathering at the house she’s shared with her mom and brother at Cousins Beach since childhood, lazy days and dips in the pool seem like all that lies ahead of her. 

But a chance for relaxation isn’t all that’s on her mind — it’s the ability to catch up with her other housemates that makes her summers memorable. Along with their mother, brothers Jeremiah and Conrad have arrived at Cousins with their unique ways of making Belly feel special. A friend from the start, Jeremiah is the best buddy with whom she loves to carouse. But it’s dark, brooding and older Conrad that has always captured Belly’s attention — and this year, she’s not just another kid at the beach. This year, she’s grown up.

Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty is an engaging coming-of-age story that definitely captures the essence of our favorite season. As someone who has visited the exact same beach house with her extended family for more than a decade, I completely related to Belly’s attachment to the home she knows by heart. The easy, breezy and relaxing feel of a day at the beach pulses in Han’s novel, but it’s too flip to declare this book a “summer read.”

The emotional pull of this novel — and the series, I’m guessing — stems from Belly’s ties to everyone in Cousins. Susanna is the boys’ mother and her own mother’s best friend — a woman who balances out the dynamic. Susanna is ethereal, serene and warm; Belly’s own mom, divorced from Belly’s father, is the dark to her light. And Susanna is like a second mother to Belly, a young woman grappling with always coming in second. I loved watching their bond grow stronger.

Told in flashes between summers past and present, The Summer I Turned Pretty well captured the joy and pain of first love — and those crushes that just won’t quit. I really empathized with Belly and fell a little in love with Conrad, too, even though his bad-boy act did eventually grow stale. It was easy to admire Belly’s backbone, and the way she stood up against a house full of young men — no one, not even her brother, could push her around. Though she’s many things, Belly isn’t used to being “pretty” — especially not standing next to Taylor, her gorgeous and flirty best friend. That’s what separates this summer from all the others. And that’s a feeling I related to well.

Though the language was, at times, a little too sparse for my taste — a little too deadpan; a little too simplistic — it didn’t hamper the emotional impact of Belly’s budding relationships and the changes happening as she turns sixteen. I read this one quickly and felt the cool breeze on my face, imagining myself wandering through the sound and huddling close to beach bonfires as the temperatures drop at night. As my own beach vacation looms before me, I wouldn’t have wanted to read anything else.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062011839 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review