Note: Some spoilers for the first two books in the series.
This book picks up immediately after the first and second books in the series, beginning with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and continuing with P.S. I Still Love You. While each of the books in the series “ends,” they aren’t really standalones.
Lara Jean, who was 16 when we first met her, is now turning 18, getting ready to graduate from high school, and thinking about college. She is still seeing Peter Kavinsky, who is incidentally becoming more and more perfect as the series progresses. But what will happen if they are separated at different colleges? Furthermore, with everyone graduating and leaving the area, Lara Jean, who hates change, just wants everything to stand still. Nevertheless, as she discovers on her senior class trip to New York City, a lot of what seems intimidating and scary just comes from imagining the worst. Or maybe being in love just makes all of life seem like “one big possibility.”
In some continuing themes, Lara Jean and her sisters Margot and Kitty will always be close (except when they aren’t), Lara Jean will always prefer to go to her hometown university, U. of Virginia in Charlottesville (except when she doesn’t get in), she will always be with Peter (except when she breaks up with him), and she will always love crafts and baking (about which she is the most consistent). Lara Jean also remains dependably impulsive, naive, good-hearted, optimistic, and sweet, in contrast to her older sister Margot, who is often moody and resentful, and her younger sister Kitty, who is spoiled and frequently bratty.
Most of the drama in this book centers on Lara Jean’s college plans, and how her relationship with Peter will fit into them. Peter got into UVA and she did not. [As a humorous aside on a meta level, Lara Jean lamented not getting into UVA by saying to Peter: “UVA’s a really competitive school. I’m not mad at them. I just wish I was going there.” My immediate thought was, well, perhaps if your grammar were better you might have gotten in….]
Lara Jean is also still profoundly influenced by the advice of her mother, who died years before. Her mother had always told them, “Don’t be the girl who goes to college with a boyfriend.” Margot did take that advice, breaking up with her hometown beau before she left for college in Scotland.
Peter says “We’ll make it work. I’m not worried about us.” But Lara Jean is not so sure.
Then there is the question of sex with Peter: should she do it before they leave for college?
At the end of the book, there are some happy endings and some that are not so resolved. There have been big changes in Lara Jean’s family. But as she muses, “Families shrink and expand. All you can really do is be glad for it, glad for each other, for as long as you have each other.”
Whatever the future brings, we know that Lara Jean will always come out of any situation upbeat, finding the bright side, making the best of everything, and being “always and forever Lara Jean.”
Evaluation: This is an appealing and “happy” series that will be attractive to younger teens, with themes of first love, how to handle relationships, family dynamics, and the challenges of growing up, to which many readers will be able to relate.
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2017