Full disclosure: I am so excited for “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I think I could burst.
Normally, this kind of movie isn’t my thing. I like a good romcom just like everybody else, but teen dramas are often overwrought affairs with little rapport and real teenagerdom.
However, YA books, as always, create a better world and even better movie adaptations. Coming out on Aug. 17, the reviews so far have been promising. It’s a power week for Asian-American films, with “Crazy Rich Asians” releasing the same week. These next few weeks are crucial, especially to non-Asian Americans, since it’s important to support multi-cultural entertainment. Also, you should watch both movies just because it’ll be fun.
Jenny Han’s book trilogy, beginning with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Jenny Han has been a staple for the lives of teenage readers since it was published back in 2014. The books tell the story of Lara Jean, a high school junior who feels emotions on a level only possible when you’re her age.
She has a loving family comprised of her father and two sisters, Margo and Kitty. She also, predictably, gets huge crushes — and when she does, she writes a letter and puts it in a hat box her later mother gave her as a gift.
This emotional vulnerability is much of Lara Jean’s character. Han’s books capture a youthful sense of love, both romantic and sisterly. Perhaps this is the appeal: Lara Jean is the kind of romantic hero who, for the most part, can be a girl. That is, she does not need to apologize for her naïveté, and Han doesn’t submerge her in the caustic world of teenage girls that often exists today.
In a society where young girls often feel pressured to grow up too fast, Lara Jean represents a girl who does what she loves, even if it isn’t what an Instagram model would do.
Lara Jean doesn’t “like” the boys she writes letters to (she writes a letter when she has a crush, as viewers of the movie’s trailer know), she loves them. It’s such a refreshing take — the reader knows that she is too young to feel the way she does in comparison to how adults know love, but it is a recognizable teenage headspace.
The book, and hopefully the movie, invites the reader and viewer into Lara Jean’s life without judging her for the way she feels or implying that she isn’t smart or valid because of it.
The story is about Lara Jean, her journey and her decisions. She learns to “put herself out there” a little bit more, sure, but it’s also a story about retaining innocence and keeping her sense of self alive even as her world changes.
For all the concept’s silliness and exaggeration, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” feels like it could be a story that resists the contemporary treatment of younger girls as full adults. Instead, this is a story that says that Lara Jean is not a woman; she’s a girl. But what’s so wrong with being a girl, anyway?