“And I’m certain, I’m suddenly so certain that everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be, that I don’t have to be so afraid of good-bye, because good-bye doesn’t have to be forever.”
With the release of the movie adaptation for the trilogy’s final installment, the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series is coming to a close. Although it will continue to be present in my life, this still feels like an ending and I thought I’d write a reflection about what these stories mean to me: Lara Jean style.
dear lara jean,
Would it be cheesy to start off with, “I know the exact day it started. Fall, eighth grade…”?
Just kidding, but. I still remember exactly when and where I was when I first read your story, and I remember exactly how it felt.
It felt like this:
Realizing that girls like me could be in stories. (Introverted girls, awkward girls, bookworm girls, girls who liked to stay at home and make things, girls who hadn’t had relationships before, girls who made fantasy worlds in their head. Asian American girls.) I saw myself in you and it meant the world.
It felt like this:
Laughing and dreaming and crying, and wondering if what I was holding in my hands was the weight of a perfect book.
So yes…it did start fall, eighth grade. It was Black Friday of 2015, I bought the book from Barnes & Noble. I was reading it the next evening and I couldn’t put the book down, even though we were at a gathering. My friend was looking over my shoulder and she read the part that goes, “Margot cried when her book got wet.”
“That’s you,” she teased.
I loved the book because it was sweet and fun and multi-dimensional. Your life came alive for me—your family, your friends, your neighbors and classmates. Even though you were just moving through life doing mundane things, I loved reading about it because you represented so much to me, and I cared about you. And of course, your romance with Peter appealed to my hopeless romantic heart. (I’ve always loved rom-coms, and your story was the perfect one.)
To little eighth grade me, your story encapsulated this perfect idea of what high school would be like. I wanted so much to be like you when I grew older. Maybe that’s why I grasped onto your story so firmly. Before, I didn’t know it was possible for Asian American girls to have the high school experiences and love stories of YA novels.
(I didn’t end up fake-dating a Peter Kavinsky, driving around my sleepy suburban town in his Audi and living the high-school dream, but your story would only grow to mean more and more to me as the years went on.)
I’ve opened up your books countless times, and they’ve come to my mind countless more as I’ve used them to guide me throughout the years.
When I finally did start high school, I so often found myself wondering, ‘What would Lara Jean do?’
It was even in the tiniest, most meaningless things. I’ve lived next to New York for practically my whole life, but I’d never tried a Jacques Torres cookie or gone to Levain Bakery. Not until I read Always and Forever, Lara Jean, at least. Then I insisted, on my family’s next trip to NYC, that we visit Jacques Torres’ chocolate shop.
CW: Food // Levain Bakery and a cookie from Jacques Torres
It was in the big things, too. It was when my older brother left for college, and I couldn’t help but think of you watching Margot leave. It was when he went to UVA’s Days on the Lawn and I felt like I was seeing your words come to life. ‘I’m walking where Lara Jean has walked,’ I thought.
It was when I was trying to choose a college. It was when I got waitlisted by UVA, but accepted into UNC. I was so close to committing to a college I’d never seen in person, because you’d loved it so much, because you’d gone there, because the way you’d described the campus and the people, Franklin Street and the Old Well and the branches, had made me fall in love with the school. It was when I found comfort in not getting into the school I’d wanted so badly to get into (partially because of you), by remembering that the same thing had happened to you, and everything had worked out for you.
So yeah…you’ve simply meant everything to me.
You’ve imprinted your story onto me; I’ve patterned so much of my life around you.
I remember finishing the first book, that cliffhanger that made me scream because I wanted desperately to know that everything worked out for you. I remember falling in love with John Ambrose, that April night captured in snow, the USO party. I remember smiling at the sisterly bond you and Margot and Kitty shared, and feeling like in a way you were my sister, too.
I remember how your book was one of the first YA novels I read, and it became the bar that I forever compared other YA books to. (I don’t know if any have met the standards you set so early.)
I remember reading about the end of your senior year when I was only a freshman in high school, and wondering where I would be at the end of four years, if my journey would be like yours. And then I remember getting there, and suddenly everything you said about goodbyes and leaving felt so real.
We’ve both always been such nostalgic people, reluctant to see the worlds we know and hold close change.
I remembering reading your book again the night I graduated, and even after so many rereadings, I still cried like I always do.
I remember when I had an opportunity to go to BookCon a month after Always and Forever, Lara Jean was released. When it came time to sign up for panels, I could not click all of the events with Jenny Han’s name fast enough. I even asked my English teacher if I could register during her class because there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to go to those events. I remember pouring my thoughts about what the books meant to me into a letter, wanting her to know how much her words have changed my life. I remember a meet-and-greet with her was the very first event I went to at BookCon, the way I could barely get out my words about how much I love your story. I remember running to the microphone during Jenny Han’s panel, eager to ask questions and learn more about you. I remember seeing my letter peeking out in a pile of notes Jenny posted a picture of, and being so excited because I so badly needed her to know what you mean to me.
CW: Harry Potter // At BookCon 2017 and my note to Jenny. Please note: These photos were taken several years ago and I do not support J.K. Rowling or the Harry Potter franchise.
I remember the excitement of hearing that your story would become a movie, that I’d finally see the reel I’d always played in my head manifest itself in real life. I remember the way I woke up extra early the day we were dropping my brother off at college just so I could watch the movie when it came out. And now, two-and-a-half years later, sitting in my room and seeing it all come to a close.
Now, I am older than you are at the end of your story. There’s no more words written down or movie left to see of what happens after. Now it’s time for me to embark on my own journey without your guidance. But you’ve shaped me into who and where I am, and you’ve prepared me to make my own narrative even though yours has come to a close.
So thank you. For everything. Always and Forever.
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