By: Sophia Lyons
Last week, Netflix revealed that their original film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has become one of their “most viewed original films ever with strong repeat viewing” (Roettgers, 2018). So the movie has taken off, but what about the book it’s based on?
That’s right, there’s a book.
Caution: Spoilers Ahead
Why can’t I just watch the movie?
Because the book is not necessarily better than the film, just richer. (For a book/movie review and more context, check out this blog post.)
What am I missing if I don’t read the book?
Because you have the rest of this blog post to find out, here’s the short answer: a lot.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a big deal for this generation because of the Asian-American representation in Lara Jean’s life. However, without author Jenny Han’s insisting on accurate representation, the movie would have been whitewashed, as many producers lost interest in the project when Han refused to allow a non-Asian-American actor to play Lara Jean. The main character’s identity as an Asian-American is a large part of her character and family dynamic. In the dedication to the novel, Han writes- “For my sister, Susan—Han girls forever”. The book is also about the connection between sisters: Lara Jean, Margot, and Kitty. The movie conveys this, but reading the book reveals how this identity influences Lara Jean’s sense of responsibility to her family after her older sister moves to Scotland for college and Lara Jean becomes the woman of the house. Lara Jean’s self-inflicted feelings of inferiority appear at the beginning of the book: “I wish (and this is a thought I’ve had many, many times, too many times to count) I was more like Margot” (p. 6). The book is able to portray a more detailed development of Lara Jean’s growth as a young adult than the film alone. She comes into her own and realizing she supports her family in her own way.
But I want to look at Noah Centineo!
Okay hypothetical reader, we all do. However, understandably typical of a film, the movie benches a lot of the subplots and underlying meaning of Lara Jean’s life and reduces it to a love triangle. The book explores the relationships that Lara Jean has, not only with the boys that receive her affections (and, eventually, her letters), but all of the significant people in her life.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a coming-of-age story about a girl in high school finding herself while adjusting to a new lifestyle and figuring out how she fits into this new role in her family. What you don’t get a solid understanding of in the movie is that Lara Jean is really trying to take care of her family the exact same way her older sister, Margot, did. Margot strived to fill her mother’s shoes, so for Lara Jean, who is younger and less uptight than Margot, she struggles to meet both expectations, while also navigating her friendships.
Regardless of how attractive Noah Centineo and literally every single other actor/actress in the movie is, the cinematic aesthetics in the movie are just visual representations of the language in the book. The book has a light-hearted, innocent tone with flowery language and idealistic perspectives that fit the visual elements in the film. Peter Kavinsky is just as charming, if not more so, in the book as the movie. Are you a big Josh Sanderson fan? Well then definitely read the book, because he is a star in the book through his more prominent role and detailed relationship with Lara Jean.
I’m an English major, why should I read a silly YA romance novel?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “And what fastens attention […] like any passage betraying affection between two parties? […] We see them exchange a glance or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We understand them and take the warmest interest in the development of the romance. All mankind love a lover.” There is an automatic attraction to finding out whom Lara Jean will fall in love with, as well as what unfolds after her letters sent. The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before book does a good job of satisfying this plot line, while creating a deeper cultural meaning.
While the movie is definitely light-hearted and simplified, the book is more relatable because it takes the time to detail Lara Jean’s internal conflict. Lara Jean’s stream of consciousness narrates the book. The reader can easily see how Lara Jean is growing up and learning about herself, instead of trying to choose between two boys.
The book creates a more elaborate course of events than just the cliché and tired “will she or won’t she”. Lara Jean is a young adult, occasionally reminded of the grief from losing her mother, missing her older sister, and adjusting the role model position that Margot set for Lara Jean so that she can fill it for her younger sister, Kitty. The most rewarding part of the book is Lara Jean coming into her own and accepting that she can be the woman of the house in her own way and without growing up too quickly.
Why is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before so popular anyway?
The popularity of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been bolstered by the diverse cast and the significance this holds in the book. There used to be a common assumption in the film industry that people will not be interested in watching a movie if the characters do not look like them. However, the film adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has received a lot of praise for its diverse and accurate casting and representation. Not only are the physical aspects of a Korean-American family represented, but the movie does a good job of portraying the father’s effort to expose his daughters to their late mother’s culture. The book’s exploration of this relationship between the girls and their culture is more thorough and continuous throughout the storyline, “But the reason we are the Song girls and not the Covey girls is my mom used to say that she was a Song girl for life, and Margot said then we should be too. We all have Song for our middle name, and we look more Song than Covey anyway, more Korean than white” (p. 8). This book is one of many supporting the movement of increased popularity of diverse books, because even though you cannot see the characters’ ethnic diversity, it emphasizes the cultural implications and details how culture infiltrates everyday life.