Page & Screen: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Page & Screen: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Welcome to a semi-regular, ongoing series of posts where I discuss movie adaptations of books, because I love books and I love movies.

I don’t always feel like a bona fide adult. Sure, I’ve ticked a few of the ‘grown up’ milestones off my list: marriage, buying a home, establishing a career. But I often feel like I’m just playacting at being a real adult. I can’t possibly be in my mid-30s, right? It’s insane to think that my high school days were over 15 years ago and that 20 years ago now only barely qualifies as the 1990s.

But when I do feel the most like an adult, it’s not because of big moments. It’s something small, almost inconsequential that makes me stop and remember, “Oh, yeah. I’m definitely not a kid anymore.”

One of those moments happened while watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a Netflix adaptation of the 2014 young adult novel of the same name. In one scene, the main love interest starts a playful pillow fight with his (sort of) girlfriend’s younger sister. It’s an adorable moment, made even more adorable by the boyfriend moving a bowl of popcorn off the couch beforehand to avoid making a mess.

To clarify, moving the popcorn isn’t the focus of the scene. It’s all of three seconds and isn’t even commented on by any of the characters. But this is what I noticed. I literally thought in my head as I watched, “Aww! What a thoughtful young man!” I have reached the point in my life when I barely register if someone under 25 is physically attractive, but am deeply in love with them based on their conscientiousness.

And I’m not alone. This moment has been written and talked about many, many times. It’s middle-aged lady porn, and I am apparently middle aged now.

To All the Boys is a romantic comedy about Lara Jean, a high school junior who writes letters to her crushes when she’s ready to stop crushing. Lara Jean’s letters act like a diary, something for her eyes only, never meant to be read by the boys they’re addressed to. But somehow the letters are posted, and Lara Jean must face all the boys she used love, including her older sister’s ex-boyfriend and the most popular guy in school.

I watched this movie before reading the book. My intention was to read the book first, but the buzz for this film was too great. Also, Netflix just kept suggesting it to me. While this goes against my book snob instincts, I’m glad I watched the movie first in this case.

The book is good, but nothing I would rave about. It was an easy and quick read, with fairly well-developed characters. I just couldn’t really connect with Lara Jean’s voice. It seemed bland, almost too naive–even for a 16 year old with zero dating experience. It lacks a certain sparkle that the movie has and is often dull.

For a few years after finishing college YA novels dominated my reading list, but it’s been awhile since I’ve actively sought any out. There are many that I absolutely love– The Hunger Games, When You Reach Me, Across the Universe— so I’m not dismissive of the genre as a whole. Maybe To All the Boys just isn’t my type of YA. Or maybe I’ve outgrown these types of books.

That thought makes me sad, as well as incredibly old. I don’t think I’ve lost touch with my teenage self so much that I can no longer relate to teens now. My genuine love for the movie gives me some hope that this isn’t the case. But then, one of my first takeaways from the film was loving the male lead for having the forethought to not make a mess (and also that my own floors are filthy).

To All the Boys is a delightful film and a welcome rom-com in a sea of superhero action flicks and Oscar bait. However, unless you’re firmly within the YA reading demographic, I’d say skip the book. Not that it’s terrible, it just may not be for us not-so-young adults. And that’s perfectly OK.

Book: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (384 pages)
Film: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (1h 39 min)

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