Han, Jenny. Always and Forever, Lara Jean. N.p: Simon & Schuster, 2017. Print.
The conclusion of the school year is an exciting time. I’ve always found the rituals satisfying—entering my final grades, cleaning out my classroom, and attending the graduation ceremony. Once my students cross the stage and receive their diploma, I become laser focused on sleeping late and compiling a fantastic summer reading list.
I sometimes forget, then, that those same graduates are facing a daunting task: the decision of what they will do—and who they will become—for the rest of their life.
This is perhaps what drew me to Jenny Han’s Always and Forever, Lara Jean. The book’s synopsis spoke of a protagonist who was navigating the murky waters of college applications and the maintenance of friendships and romantic relationships outside of high school. I’d also seen the book frequently on Instagram and Goodreads as it was the long-awaited conclusion to a series. Admittedly, I have not read the books that preface this one; however, I feel it did not impact my understanding of Lara Jean’s story.
Lara Jean Song Covey is cherishing her final months of high school. Life is perfect—she has a loyal and dedicated group of friends, a close-knit relationship with her two sisters and father, and a sweet and doting boyfriend named Peter. All that she lacks is the confirmation that she has been admitted to her dream school, the University of Virginia. Peter has already been admitted on a lacrosse scholarship, and she fantasizes about what their lives will be like once they are college students. Her older sister and friends warn her not to follow a boyfriend to college, but Lara Jean shakes off this suggestion.
Her world is shattered, then, when she is not accepted to UVA. Heartbroken, she settles for a nearby university, William & Mary, and hopes that she and Peter can commute back and forth to spend time together. This plan is soon compromised as Lara Jean gains admittance to a larger, more selective college that is further away. Lara Jean feels like this might be the right fit for her; however, the distance means she will see her family and boyfriend even less. Will Lara Jean ignore her intuition and stay close to home? Will her relationship with Peter deteriorate under the pressure?
Although this is the first novel I’ve read by Han, I can tell she is a master of imagery. It was the little details that jumped out at me—the chewiness of Lara Jean’s cookies, the swiss dots on her graduation dress, the pink tulle on her prom gown, the expansive lawns and regal old buildings in the various colleges she visited, etc. Lara Jean is a girl who appreciates the little things, a trait that is evidenced by her love of cooking, crafting, and scrapbooking. The barrage of sensory detail, then, felt true to her character.
My biggest complaint is that, at times, Lara Jean felt like she was slipping into Mary Sue territory. She was universally adored, made stellar grades, and was part of a well-to-do family. Her problems felt trivial when compared to some my eighteen-year-old students face every day. I even found myself rolling my eyes at her naivete during my read. Like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t read the previous two books about Lara Jean, so it’s possible she’s had severe struggles that are unknown to me.
Still, I can see this book being a popular addition to a classroom library, especially with teen readers who love the Nicholas Sparks brand of romances. This book ultimately teaches readers that, with a little effort, they can pursue the things that make their heart sing while maintaining ties to the people they love. That is surely a sentiment that would bring a lot of peace to a graduating senior.