Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Rating: 
Author: Jenny Han
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: May 2017
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3

Netflix just announced that they will be making a sequel to All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so I decided to finish off the year with the final book in this trilogy. I loved the first book, and while I enjoyed the second book as well, I thought it was a bit unnecessary, so I wasn’t sure if I would read the third book or not, but I’m glad I did decide to finish off this series.

I had similar thoughts on this book as I had to the second book in that I still think the first book works as a standalone and is the strongest of the series, but I do think each book added something of value even though they weren’t really necessary. I actually kind of loved John Ambrose Mclaren in the second book (Yes, I still love Peter K) and I liked that Han explored Lara Jean’s relationships with both boys. Initially, I found the final book really frustrating because I thought Lara Jean kind of disappeared into her relationship with Peter, but it ended up kind of being the whole point of the book and I liked that it explored the struggles of heading off to college and balancing relationships with your own personal development.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is about Lara Jean’s final year of high school and making plans to go to college. Her and Peter are still in love, but in the wake of so many new decisions and the reality that life rarely goes the way we expect, they are forced to make some difficult decisions about their relationship and learn about the way they communicate with each other.

I don’t really know how to talk about the rest of the book without spoilers, but there are a few things I want to discuss, so I’d advise to stop reading here if you haven’t yet finished the series.

Like I said, initially I was really frustrated with Lara Jean in this book. She gets so caught up in her Dad’s wedding and in her and Peter having the perfect future that she makes some really poor decisions. I think this is totally realistic to how teenagers act, especially when they’re in love and being forced to make difficult decisions about their futures, but Lara Jean has always been so focused on her personal growth and achievements that I was disappointed to see her checking out on college. She doesn’t get into her dream college, so instead of embracing the change and her new school, she emotionally checks out on all things college related, despite her sister Margot advising her to make the most of her first year of college.

Lara Jean and Peter are in an impossible position because in all likelihood, they probably will eventually break up, but I liked the journey they went on together. When Lara Jean gets into a better college, she starts embracing the idea of change and the reality that her and Peter just won’t be able to see each other that much and that maybe transferring schools isn’t the right decision for her. Teenagers can be rash in their decisions, but I liked that she finally was able to prioritize her happiness as well as Peters. It’s easy to disappear in a relationship and as teenagers, they are really too young for either to be thinking about sacrificing college for the other. I also liked the dichotomy Han created between Margot’s decision to break up with Josh and Lara Jean’s decision to stay with Peter. Both women are right in their decision as there is no correct answer and each did what they thought best for them and their relationship. It’s a bit of a bittersweet ending, but I thought it was realistic.

While I only rated one of these books 4 stars, I still think this is a great series for teenagers. Lara Jean is quite unlike a lot of teen protagonists I’ve read and while I know some readers think she’s too immature, I think she is just right. As someone who was a bit of a goody-goody in high school and has a great relationship with her sister, I could really relate to Lara Jean and I loved how supportive her family was. Her sisters added so much to what could have been a vapid novel about teen love and I really liked how they always prioritized family and personal growth.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy, LBGTQIA+
Pub date: Oct. 2nd. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)
Series: Montague Siblings #2

I’m a little bit on the fence for how to rate The Lady’s Guide. On one hand, it was wonderful, but I just didn’t love it quite as much as The Gentleman’s Guide. There were parts of this that I loved, but I also thought the plot progression was a little awkward and slow moving at times.

Felicity was my favourite character from The Gentleman’s Guide and I thought this book had a really strong start with her getting proposed to, but deciding to pursue medicine instead, despite being routinely ignored by medical schools since it’s the 1700’s and she’s a woman. Mackenzi Lee is great at writing historical fiction that induces that perfect level of righteous rage and indication at the injustices the characters face because while their dilemma’s are historical, the issues they face are not. Felicity is discriminated against because of her sex and dreams of more than just a life as a wife, something I’m sure many women can still relate to. But Felicity is unwilling to give up on her dreams and pursues a medical career through whatever means necessary.

I loved Johanna in this book. I love that she had a great love of the natural world as well as a love for make-up, dresses, and all things fancy. Felicity boxed herself in, thinking that her ambition made her different from all other women, looking down on Johanna for still embracing femininity. But Johanna and Sim both proved that what you look like doesn’t define you and that having ambition outside of your traditional gender roles doesn’t make you better than any other woman. They both helped Felicity to grow and understand that just because your progression doesn’t look the way you want it to (going to medical school), doesn’t mean that you can’t adapt your ambition and your path. Sometimes we just won’t get what our heart desires, but it doesn’t mean we have to be cut out entirely from those dreams, we just need to adapt them.

Sadly I just didn’t find this book quite as funny as The Gentleman’s Guide though. I loved that the plot of this book also featured a lot of travel around Europe, but something about it just didn’t flow as well. Some parts were really fun and interesting, while other parts dragged. The ending is very ambiguous, with two parties debating the best course of action. Both positions had merits, but I felt that Johanna and Felicity’s motivation wasn’t really clear and that the story lacked resolution. With the exception of the petticoats, I just felt the story wasn’t really that clever. It was interesting, but I wasn’t really impressed with how the story played out and I wanted more. Like I said, I liked all the awesome female characters in this book, particularly Johanna, but I felt Sim was a little underdeveloped.

So overall, I think I will rate this 3.5 stars. The author definitely did some fun and interesting stuff with the plot and characters. I love that diversity is a priority for her and I liked that Felicity was asexual, something not often represented in literature. But I didn’t find this book as funny and it was one of the key things I wanted from this book.

P.S. I Still Love You

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jenny Han
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: May 2015 (read Aug. 2018)

Okay, I’m definitely not as enamoured with this as I was for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. I really don’t think the first book needed a sequel, much less a trilogy, but I’ll admit I do still find these characters charming.

I don’t have too much to say about PS. I Still Love You. What made the first book so great is that it was only really partly about boys and mostly about sisters. This book is mostly about boys and it just wasn’t as engaging for me. There are a million and one books out there already about love triangles and the minefield that is managing your emotions as a teenager. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before offered something new to the genre, and I don’t think this did.

That said, I do still think Lara Jean is a relatable character to a lot of young girls. Again, there are lots of books about teenage rebellion, partying, and poor decision making. But I like that Lara Jean is relatable to those girls that play it safe in high school and are intimidated by some of the experiences of their peers (in this case sexual experiences). Lara Jean knows Peter has had sex before and she also knows she’s not ready, which leads to a lot of insecurity about what Peter thinks and feels about their relationship.

However, I did really like that Lara Jean realizes that some of her hang ups actually have to do less with Peter and more with Genevieve. She constantly compares herself to her ex-best friend and how she might measure up alongside her. I liked that Lara Jean and Peter were both comfortable talking to one another about sex and I also liked the way Han wrote about Peter’s feelings on sex. It would have been so easy to write a character that was hung up on the fact that he and Lara Jean weren’t having sex, but Peter understood that Lara Jean wasn’t ready and just didn’t bring it up. Their relationship was about more than just sex for Peter.

I can’t decide if I’m going to read the last one or not. The first book ends on a cliffhanger that was annoying resolved within about 2 chapters of this book, but this one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. The final book seems unnecessary to me, but I kind of want to see the series through. Plus they don’t take very long to read and I’m not sure I’m ready to part with Kitty Song Covey yet. What a smart and funny character – definitely my favourite!

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jenny Han
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Apr. 2014 (read Aug. 2018)

I’ve known about this book for ages, but it sounded pretty juvenile and vapid, so I decided to give it a pass. But then I saw the ad for the Netflix movie and it looked super cute, so I decided to finally pick this up and give it a read. I flew through it in my 25infive readathon, reading it in a single day. I definitely still think it’s juvenile, but it was also really cute and did have more depth than I was expecting.

The main reason I liked this is primarily because it’s about sisters. Lara Jean has 2 sisters, Margot and Kitty, and together they make up the cutest little family. Kitty was easily my favourite and I loved how this book focused so much on the relationships between the sisters, not just on boys.

The premise of the story is that whenever Lara Jean has a crush that she wants to get over, she writes them a goodbye letter (that she keeps in a hat box in her closet) and that helps her move on from her crush. Embarrassingly, one of her crushes is her friend Josh, who is now Margot’s boyfriend. But Margot and Josh break up at the start of the book when Margot moves to Scotland for University, causing a resurgence in Lara Jean’s feelings for Josh.

She vows to do nothing and move on, but then her letters somehow end up getting sent out to the 5 boys she has loved before and everything changes. Josh is totally taken aback by the letter, and to save face, Lara Jean starts a fake relationship with one her other former crushes, Peter.

I’ve read some criticisms that Lara Jean’s voice is too young for a 16 year old, but her naivete is actually one of the other things I liked about this book. She’s interested in boys, but at the same time totally scared of them and puts all her efforts into her relationships with her sisters instead. I thought it was great to showcase relationships between sisters and that not every teenage girl is just obsessed with boys.

There’s not really any surprises in this book. It’s a short, feel good YA book. Nothing groundbreaking – but a fun quick, summer read.

Radio Silence

Rating: 
Author: Alice Oseman
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Feb. 2016 (read Aug. 2018)

Okay, this was pretty fantastic. I cannot believe the author is currently only 24 FREAKING YEARS OLD! I opened up this book and caught a glimpse of her author pic and was like, omg this girl looks like she’s 12. But never underestimate young people because seriously, who can write teenagers better than someone who was basically a teenager when they wrote it.

There’s a lot of really great things happening in this book, but what struck me most is how honest these characters are. After I finished this I immediately picked up a copy of Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is a young adult mystery/thriller, and spoiler alert, the dialogue and characters are really bad. Coming out of this book, I immediately noticed that McNeil’s characters were more like caricatures of teenagers rather than actual teenagers. This isn’t a review of Ten, but it was such a contrast to Radio Silence, that it really highlighted to me how great the characters are in this book.

Radio Silence primarily features two teens, Frances and Aled. Frances is head girl at her school and has worked insanely hard her entire life with the end goal of getting into an English Lit program at Cambridge University. Likewise, Aled felt a huge pressure from his mom to succeed in life by attending a prestigious university and has been accepted to a program starting in the fall (he is one year older than Frances).

However, Aled’s secret is that he is the creator of a mildly popular science fiction podcast called Universe City. Frances’ secret is that she’s a huge fan of the podcast and posts fan art to Tumblr under an alias. Aled and Frances both feel pressured to be different people in their real lives than they are in private and Frances regularly acknowledges that she has a school persona and a real persona. When a chance encounter leads them to discover they both love Universe City, they collaborate on the project and develop a really close friendship.

This book features a super diverse cast of characters, both in racial and sexual identity. But my favourite part of the book was the platonic relationship between Frances and Aled. Oseman tells us from the start that this will not be a love story. It’s such a brilliant move because it acknowledges all of the different types of relationships that exist between people and that you don’t have to write a romantic relationship to write a good story. Frances and Aled genuinely both really cared about each other and I loved that this novel showcased that.

My second favourite part of this book was the realistic portrayal of the amount of stress society places on young people to go to university and succeed academically. I suspect there’s a large contingent of people out there that can’t relate to Frances and Aled’s need to be top of their class and the pressure to go to an ivy league university, but I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that don’t excel academically and are made to feel inferior by either not getting into university or not wanting to go.

In some way or another, I think everyone feels insecure in high school. Some people feel the need to excel in academia, others in sports or in the arts. Some people don’t care about any of that and just want a group of people in which to belong or an escape from their sometimes less than ideal home situation. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those around us, especially in the social media age, and there’s a huge amount of pressure to fit in. There are not many novels written about college or the transition to college, and I thought this was a wonderful portrayal about that period.

In addition to Frances and Aled, Radio Silence features a wonderful cast of secondary characters. I thought Frances’ mom was wonderful and I loved how she supported Frances and in return, how Frances was always very open and honest with her. I loved how the friendships developed in this novel and how Frances eventually came to be close with both Daniel and Raine as well.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book. It’s captivating in it’s honesty. Every character was portrayed so well and I had no problem believing in the authenticity of each of these people. Well done Alice Oseman, I’m excited to check out her new book, I Was Born For This.