To All the Boys I've Loved Before/P.S. I Still Love You
I just had an early morning discussion (on 8/21) with Mr. Bookworm after my To All the Boys I've Loved Before weekend. As of this writing, I haven't finished watching the movie yet. I'm 1/3 of the way through because Mini Me went to a sleepover and I wasn't sure if she wanted to watch it with me. Now, the novel is not her usual kind of thing (and I'm not letting her read the sequel because she's only 12) so though she started reading it, she didn't finish. She's more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan.
I, on the other hand, read all kinds of books. And I'm a hopeless romantic. I've decided that after seeing that description on Nicola Yoon's profile that I can use it to describe myself too. Though Yoon is more of a professional hopeless romantic and I'm just the same hopeless romantic I've been since I was a teen. Just like Lara Jean.
Jenny Han, the author of To All the Boys and its sequels, wrote an op-ed piece in the NYT about what it means for teens to have an Asian teen role model like Lana Condor AKA the actor who plays Lara Jean Song Covey. Why is her full name important? Because Lara Jean is a mixed Asian-American. Just like my kids.
Which circles back to my discussion with Mr. Bookworm. Last week was a big week for Asian-American film in that there was the release of a major film (Crazy Rich Asians) that featured a mostly all Asian-American cast, and there was the release of To All the Boys I've Loved Before, which happened to feature a mixed Asian-American family. Han's op-ed piece focused on why representation matters. It's been a big discussion lately, and I've seen Constance Wu (the lead of Crazy Rich Asians, and also the FOB-by mom on Fresh Off the Boat, and all around funny actress) spearhead this topic in her interviews and on her twitter feed. Some people get it, some don't.
Here's the thing: for all my own delight in seeing both films being made AND seeing a Filipino-American writer win the Newbery Medal (yes, I'm talking about Erin Entrada Kelly again) AND seeing Front Desk by Kelly Yang come out with a bang and widespread success, I can tell you that it doesn't matter as much to my kids. Why? Because even though they've had some small instances of racism, they are growing up in a (somewhat sheltered) world in which people look beyond the color of their skin. Mostly.
I've seen Han's fans praise her for her success, and I will too, especially with her op-ed piece, and I also applaud the fact that Lara Jean doesn't hesitate to educate Peter on the racism in Sixteen Candles. (And I love John Hughes movies! But I cringe(d) every time that Asian actor was on the screen. I won't type his name out because it's too insulting.) But here's why it doesn't matter to my girls: because they ARE growing up in a world in which they are represented. They see themselves in books, in films, in tv. They don't realize that this is TRAILBLAZING and that though I may be considered among the older moms (I had Mini Me in my early thirties), my generation didn't get that luxury. I wouldn't even know what to think if I had found just one novel that featured a main character who looked like me, a first generation Filipino-Chinese-American. It just didn't exist in the 80s.
To All the Boys/P.S. I Still Love You
I said I had a To All the Boys weekend, and I did. While Mini Me was at her sleepover, I had finished To All The Boys and then I spent all day Saturday reading P.S. I Still Love You. And on Sunday, the girls and I made cookies. Not from scratch, like Lara Jean, though we like to bake, but from a mix because we are having a flour moth issue. And I wanted to make Han's Cowgirl Cookies but didn't have all the ingredients. I'm also hoping to make them gluten-free so that Mr. Bookworm can have some too. (My newly purchased GF flour and oats are in the fridge. I might hate moths as much as spiders right now. But not as much as fleas. At least we're done with those this summer.)
The sisters: The sister-relationship is awesome in the novels and I love that they are there for each other every step of the way. I remember fighting and confiding with my sisters when we were growing up, and to this day, no one (save Mr. Bookworm) knows me better.
My favorite of the sisters has to be Kitty, as seen through Lara Jean's eyes. Jenny Han has such a witty way of describing Kitty, and I think she's referred to her own sister as the original Kitty. She has so much personality. One of my fave sections is from P.S. I Still Love You, in which Lara Jean and Kitty are trying to figure out what to do for their dad on Valentine's Day. A few simple sentences says so much about these girls and how they take care of each other and their dad. And, also, how Lara Jean and Margot have taken on a motherly role to Kitty. They're not just surviving, they are thriving, and it has a lot to do with the love in the family.
Having said that, I related to Lara Jean the most, even though I'm the oldest in the family. She is, after all, the hopeless romantic. And even though I'm just a minute older and felt pressure to excel and achieve like an oldest child, these books made me think about how my twin is likely really the mother-figure. And had we been in the same situation as the Song Covey girls, she would have been the one to rise to the occasion and take care of us. She takes care of us now!
So, yeah, I'm the one who likes to stay at home and I'm the teen who had stars and hearts in her eyes.
The Sequel and the Sequel to the Sequel: While there were many scenes I enjoyed in P.S. I Still Love You, I saw them as very separate books in a way. P.S. I Still Love You focused more on the friendship ties that happened in middle school and how it all drifts away. And, in the end, I believe the conclusion that Lara Jean comes to <SPOILER ALERT>: that she was the one who couldn't let go of Gen. I can understand this all too well. I did like that Lara Jean is into the retro and the vintage in her clothing and style and it shows through in her actions and focuses as she works at the senior center. However, I wasn't big on the love triangle. It felt like there was already one in the previous book and I'm not sure why there needed to be one here, even if it brought conflict. On the other hand, I can see how Lara Jean's situation with John Ambrose McClaren correlates with the conversations about dating that she's been having with Stormy, one of the seniors at the center.
Overall, the sequel was well-written with a lot of witty and also heart-felt scenes.
I will admit that I'm reluctant to read the last book in the trilogy, Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Why? Because the first and second book lead up to the fact that I think Lara Jean will end up with someone else. Maybe, maybe not. Is it realistic? Sure. There are very few people I know who ended up marrying (and staying married to) their high school sweethearts. But I don't need reality in my fiction. :D
(And though Mr. Bookworm and I were not high school sweethearts, we did meet my first week in college, then started dating the next month, and we've been together ever since. So there's that.)
I've heard a lot of people refer to the film version of To All the Boys as a throwback to the 80s/90s and I can see why. The huge draw of the film, honestly, are the two leads, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. They are both so charming and charismatic in their roles that it's hard not to root for each of them. And, just like in the book, the Song Covey sisters' bond is tight. As someone who also has two sisters, I can appreciate their connection, and I love that it's not lost in the flim.
SPOILER ALERT: I'm glad that I read the first two books before finishing the film. Though I've now read PS I Still Love You the equivalent of three times (it's on my phone whereas I have a paperback version of To All The Boys), I still prefer the original book. But I do love how the film incorporates elements from the second book into the film, such as the fact that the hot tub scene goes viral and misinterpreted. The film definitely stands up to the hype. So much so that I'm not sure which one I liked best. Both. I have to say both.
Well, it's a light teen rom-com and I'm not (too) embarrassed to say that I'm ready to watch it again.
Earlier this week Kelly Marie Tran wrote an op-ed too. If you're not a Star Wars fan, you may not know that she played Rose Tico and was the first woman of color to play one of the lead roles in the franchise. As I followed her on Instagram (before she deleted all her pics), I adored her even more for her 'real life' self than on the screen. Though I have to say that I enjoyed her role on The Last Jedi too, which also included strong sisterly bond. At the Oscars last year, she wore a beautiful dress and seemed so full of joy and enthusiasm to be promoting the film on the red carpet. Unfortunately, there are so many TROLLS out there who not only criticized her role (they have a right to their opinion) BUT also relentlessly sent her racist comments.
ENOUGH. Maybe my girls don't see that side of it because, again, they are growing up in a world in which they ARE represented. Slowly and surely. But I think it's good for the rest of the world to see that too: that an Asian-American actor can be cast in a huge franchise film, or as one of the leads in a Broadway film (like Eliza Hamilton and George Washington in Hamilton) and be judged for her talents and not the color of her skin. So even though my daughters don't blink at seeing an Asian-American teen idol in a rom-com, I do, and we talk about it. And I hope other families are doing the same.
So thank you, Jenny Han, for insisting that Lara Jean be played by an Asian-American actress. Thank you for believing in your work and knowing that there was a film production company out there who would support you. I'm not sure you could have found anyone more perfect than Lana Condor for the role. And P.S. Thank you for sharing your writing and your heart with so many Lara Jeans (of all ages) out there.
Tell Dr. Bookworm!
Did/do you have a favorite teen rom-com when you were growing up? Who did you relate to the most?
If you've read To All The Boys I've Loved Before or watched the film, please let me know what you thought of either/both in the comments.
Do you like movie-tie in versions for book covers? I prefer the originals, but I could see why people like to get the movie version too.