Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017)
By Jenny Han
When Jenny Han announced that she was going to write a third book for the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, I was really excited. It was one of the books I was looking forward to this year.
In Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Lara Jean is excited for her last year of high school. She has her senior trip, prom, and graduation to look forward to and she gets to spend it all with her boyfriend, Peter. However, there is one thing that worries her, the future. Lara Jean hopes to attend the University of Virginia with Peter but this dream of her’s may not happen if she doesn’t get in.
As I said before, I was really looking forward to this book but after I read it, I was a bit disappointed with the story’s execution. I think the third book wasn’t really necessary because the ending of P.S. I Still Love You had a great ending that didn’t need a follow-up. The ending was satisfying enough. I do think that the third book was to satisfy the fans as they wanted to see more of Lara Jean and Peter (and Jenny Han did dedicate this book to the readers). So although it didn’t have a consistent narrative, fans are able to see more adventures between the two.
For the third book, it felt episodic as opposed to having a concrete overarching plotline. One could argue that the main dilemma is whether or not Lara Jean and Peter will stay together after high school. However, I felt that this conflict was minor in comparison to Lara Jean actually growing up and finally putting herself first rather than caring for her family and friends. In the previous books, Lara Jean was very reluctant to change and was very family-oriented. However, in Forever and Always, Lara Jean, she realizes that she needs to be her own person and let her dad actually be a parent and raise Kitty for once instead of her and Margot filling in as the mother figure. Always and Forever, Lara Jean is more focused on the female protagonist and her personal dilemmas that every high school girl goes through. We didn’t get as much character development with some other key characters such as Peter and Lara Jean’s best friend, Chris, who played important roles in the other two books. I didn’t mind that but I do feel that some of the other characters didn’t get a good enough conclusion as I hoped they would but I understand that this last book is meant to focus on Lara Jean and her life.
I felt that how the story is presented was a bit rushed. Jenny Han focuses on specific moments that one may have during his or her senior year: senior trip, prom, and graduation. Han condensed a single year into a few chapters and I think it is to convey the mindset of a high school senior, where we focused on making fun memories with friends before going off to college. Yet, I do feel that Han’s selectiveness in what senior events to focus on wasn’t fleshed out well. In her previous books, Han would build up a scene and dialogue and her characters would interact with such ease. However, in the third book, this wasn’t the case. For example, I felt that the senior trip to New York and prom night were key moments in Lara Jean’s senior year but when those moments happened, they felt rushed in order to move the plot along. However, I do think the reason as to why the pacing is a bit frantic is because that’s how one feels during their senior year in high school—everything is happening at once and you are more focused on making some life changing decisions. I think that’s the tone and intention that Han was aiming for despite me not liking it personally.
Yet, I do like how Jenny Han added some personality to this story when Lara Jean got accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A fun fact is that Jenny Han graduated with an MFA there, and so you can see how Lara Jean is somewhat of a reflection of the author, herself. When Lara Jean and Chris visited UNC, I wondered whether or not this is how Jenny Han decided she wanted to attend UNC. It’s really cool to see how authors clearly use their personal experiences in their work.
If you read the other two books in this series, you should read this one. Personally, I like the other two books more because they had a clear storyline and there was some excitement in Lara Jean’s adventures. I felt that Always and Forever, Lara Jean is missing those two aspects and it fell short of my expectations.