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Reading Jenny Han for the First Time

Call me biased or even a hipster but I can’t express how much I loathe books that are surrounded by hype. The main reason I dislike books like these is that they either center on stereotypical characters and a less than average plot or have storylines that fall short of my expectations when I do decide to buy into the hype. One of the best examples is The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. I’ve written about my dislike for this novel in other reviews but I can’t stress enough how disappointed I was in this book. I’m more upset with myself for falling for the beautiful cover and getting excited about it after hearing nothing but good things. The Thousandth Floor and a few other novels are books that have made me into a skeptic when it comes to popular new YA releases.

When Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was released, I thought that it was just another typical book that received unnecessary attention and would fade away just like the other novels that are based on hype. It wasn’t until I received Han’s final book in the series Always and Forever, Lara Jean in the mail that my opinion of her novels would drastically change. When I tore open the package (tearing open mail gives me the same feeling as tearing open Christmas presents), I couldn’t believe that this book found its way to me. Worse yet, I had never read the previous novels and would be forced to buy the two previous books. As much as my skeptic senses were tingling, I caved and set aside a portion of my already small budget to purchase the two novels. I’m more than glad I did.

While it took some getting used to, I began to enjoy Lara Jean’s perspective and the way she interacted with her family and the other characters. If you’ve never read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series (although I’m sure you have if you’re reading this) it’s a novel that tells the tale of a Korean-American girl named Lara Jean who, in an effort to get over her crushes, writes them love letters that she will never send. When the letters are suddenly sent out to all her crushes nothing in Lara Jean’s world remains the same.

While some hyped up books receive attention for simple things such as cover design, who is supporting the novel or a well-organized marketing campaign, I’ve come to realize that Han’s books received a lot of attention and praise because it’s a series whose main focus is on diversity. Unfortunately, the majority of YA books that I’ve read don’t feature other ethnicities outside of Caucasians and if they do, it’s not always in a good light. Recently, there have been a lot more novels that focus on other ethnicities such as Flawed by Cecelia Ahern and I’m glad for it.

By telling Lara Jean’s story, Han shared things about Korean culture that I never knew before reading the series. I especially loved the fact that one of the books included a recipe from a dish Lara Jean made in the novel! While I enjoyed the series because I was able to actually learn more about a foreign culture and not be graded on it, young Korean American girls will be able to relate to Lara Jean and feel a sense of pride in their origins and in who they are.

The Young Adult genre can do with a lot more books that feature diversity and I love the fact that some authors are being the pioneers. After reading Jenny Han’s series and loving the majority of the characters she creates in this fictional world, I’m also more willing to take a chance on novels that receive more than usual hype. Even though I’m sure there will be many books that fall short of my expectations, I can be reassured that there are a few out there like Han’s novels.

Did you hear that the series is being made into a movie? I can’t wait to see it!

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