While watching the premiere of To All the Boys: Always and Forever, the final Netflix movie adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, I felt a sense of comfort and nostalgia enveloping me. These books came into my life during a time I needed comfort, and I’ve felt a lasting love for them ever since.
Jenny Han’s heartwarming trilogy first appeared on my radar in the summer of 2018. Still in my library studies grad program, I listened to classmates rave about the series one day in class. Later that summer, they said, the first book would be adapted for screen.
The premise of the books lured me in right away. Whenever she falls in love with someone, Korean American teen Lara Jean writes him a letter. She never sends these letters, though. She writes out all her feelings to her crushes and then hides them away. Until one day, much to her horror, these letters somehow get sent.
Wanting to read the first book before the movie premiered, I began reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and soon devoured the entire trilogy. Through Jenny Han’s books, I’d rediscovered the power of comfort reading. The summer of 2018 wasn’t just the summer I read these books. It was the summer I was pregnant.
I became a single mom early on in my pregnancy. At three months pregnant, I moved into a new apartment and began living on my own for the first time in my life. Though, with my still indiscernible baby bump, I was a new party of two.
Facing this new phase in my life on my own was hard. Some days, the quiet of my apartment would really hit me. In the silence, I had a lot of time to think about my life. While my past held some painful memories, my future brought with it new worries and fears. Would my growing baby be okay when I carried all the groceries in up the three flights of stairs every week? What if I went into labor in the middle of the night and had to drive myself to the hospital? Would I make a good mother? The worries felt endless. Despite the hurt and the fear, most of all I felt lonely.
In my new apartment, I lived within walking distance of the public library. I found solace in walking to the library, and on one of those trips that summer, I carried Lara Jean’s stories back home with me. In the pages of these books, I finally found some of the comfort I so desperately craved. Through the world of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I could escape my quiet apartment. Instead, I became Lara Jean, who preferred watching movies with her little sister or baking rather than going out. Someone who wrote her feelings in letters before opening up about them in real life. A girl who thinks she’s in love with a boy, until a new one takes her by surprise.
So much of Lara Jean’s story brought me comfort. I loved tasting the delicious descriptions of the treats she created in her family’s kitchen. When you’re pregnant, the second best thing to eating desserts is reading about desserts. Does that still apply to me now that I’m no longer pregnant? Yes.
Lara Jean’s family is also as sweet as her baking. I found the dynamics between Lara Jean and her sisters so charming. The Song-Covey sisters reminded me of the March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, another ultimate comfort read of mine. They fight, they laugh, they cry, and they are always there for one another. As someone with three brothers, reading about close-knit siblings warms me right up.
I also drew comfort from how much I could relate to Lara Jean. She likes dressing in her own vintage style and listening to oldies music. She’s happiest when she’s reading, baking, and spending time with her family. When I read from Lara Jean’s perspective I could see some of myself in her, and this made me feel less alone.
A heady layer of nostalgia also sprinkles the pages of the book series like a fine dusting of powdered sugar. Lara Jean and her friends share many memories from when they were kids growing up together and running around their neighborhoods (and playing some epic games of tag). While their friendships change with time, the friends still cherish much of their shared history and the profound impact it has had on them. Reading those characters reminiscing about their childhoods as their high school years come to a close brought back so many special memories of my own. Of days I’d run barefoot through the grass of my neighborhood, building forts and having adventures with my brothers and the other kids on the block.
And then, of course, we have the romance of Lara Jean and Peter. The two share such a genuine, feel-good relationship. It gave me hope that true love can surprise you, and you can find it when you’re least expecting it. That’s something I love about the romance genre; it can give you hope.
So that summer of 2018, I read the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before books, and I felt a little bit better. Despite my loneliness, I found some comfort between the pages of Lara Jean’s stories. Time has passed now, and with it I’ve found joy again, especially in the form of my wonderful son. He fills my heart up with so much love it spills over.
The To All the Boys books will always and forever remind me of that summer, and how much they meant to me then. Books hold power that way. They can’t heal all wounds, but they can help ease sorrows and plant seeds of hope within us. In a Goodreads review on July 21, 2018, I wrote: “Lara Jean is one of those rare narrators you fall in love with and see so much of yourself in. Her family, the boy she loves, and her story will stay with me for a long time after.” And so they have.
What stories have been there for you when you needed them the most?