Lara Jean Song Covey, 16, has been writing secret love letters to every boy she has ever loved – five boys in all. She never sent those letters; rather, she kept them in a hat box her mother gave her before dying six years before. The letters, Lara Jean claims, were to help put her feelings of love “to rest.”
One of the letters was to her next-door neighbor, Josh Sanderson. Josh, 17, is her older sister Margot’s boyfriend, but “my whole family is a little in love with him” – even their dad: “My dad loves Josh because he’s a boy and my dad is surrounded by girls.” Dad is now the single parent of Margot (“Gogo”), 18, who is just leaving for college in Scotland, Lara Jean, 16, and Kitty (Katherine) 9.
Another letter was to Peter Kavinsky, a handsome boy in Lara Jean’s grade who until recently was dating Genevieve, a former friend of Lara Jean’s. Peter was Lara’s first kiss, when she was twelve.
Somehow, the letters – secretly stashed in the hat box in Lara Jean’s closet – get mailed out. (In the most unrealistic part of this story, Lara Jean can’t figure out how that happened or who could have done it. The house wasn’t robbed, duh.) The worst repercussions are with Josh and Peter, because Lara Jean still sees them everyday. And she thinks she still loves Josh. So when Josh confronts her about the letter, Lara Jean, mortified, impulsively says she doesn’t feel that way anymore, that her boyfriend is now Peter Kavinsky. She runs up and kisses Peter, who is standing nearby.
Peter agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend so he can make Genevieve jealous, and they write out a “contract” to set the parameters of their fake relationship. Lara Jean is to be a “placeholder” until Genevieve takes him back.
Lara Jean has never actually dated anyone before. She helps out a lot at home and at any rate is afraid to have a relationship. She explains to Peter:
“It’s scary when it’s real. When it’s not just thinking about a person, but, like, having a real live person in front of you, with, like, expectations. And wants. . . . Even when I liked a boy so much, loved him even, I would always rather be with my sisters, because that’s where I belong.”
Peter intuits there is even more to it: “You only like guys you don’t have a shot with, because you’re scared. …. You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.” He tells Lara Jean she needs to grow up.
Is it true, she wonders? In the meantime, she starts falling for Peter, and realizes she doesn’t in fact love Josh, that she hasn’t for a while. Maybe she never did, she thinks.
On a weekend high school skiing field trip, Lara Jean finally shows her feelings for Peter. But somebody with a smart phone is there too, and suddenly the whole school is sharing the video and drawing the wrong conclusions about this very private moment. Lara Jean is upset and mad at Peter. Ironically, it is her little sister Kitty who gives her the best advice for going forward.
Evaluation: Lara Jean seems pretty unsophisticated compared to high school kids today, but the reasons behind it make it mostly seem believable. This is a sweet story, but probably more suitable for tweens rather than teens.
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2014