Recently, the internet has been going ga-ga over Netflix’ To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo as teens who start to fake date, each for their own complicated reason. It’s the first mainstream teen romance to have an Asian American lead and, given its popularity, will hopefully pave the way for more wonderful and diverse movies in this genre.
But before this adorable movie came Jenny Han’s popular book with the same title. As a huge fan of books in general, and this book in particular, I can understand that some people can have reservations when it comes to adaptations. After all, can a 2-hour long movie really capture the nuances of a 350-page book?
While there are definitely many differences between book and movie, the Netflix movie manages to capture the heart and soul of the novel, and its characters, in ways that not many adaptations do. And the creative liberties that the movie takes actually make the plot and characterisation stronger. Let’s go through some of these differences:
Peter Kavinsky and Josh Sanderson
If you’ve been seeing all of the love for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before in the last few days, you’ve probably also seen all of the love for Peter Kavinsky. He’s one popular guy! It’s probably half because Noah Centineo does such a wonderful job in the role, and half because Peter is written as such a charming, suave guy in the movie.
The book though definitely gave Peter K a much harder time of it. Book Peter spent large portions of time pining after his ex-girlfriend Gen, often abandoning Lara Jean in order to help Gen. While Book Peter definitely came through towards the end of the book, he was a much more difficult to like character, and I often found myself questioning his intentions with Lara Jean.
Josh Sanderson was probably not the most likable character in the movie, but he was even more unlikable in the book. While Movie Josh seems to want to protect Lara Jean because of their friendship, Book Josh was much more self-motivated, with his love for Margot seemingly fading due to developing feelings for Lara Jean.
The Song Girls
Who are the Song girls, you ask? Well, the Covey girls! Lara Jean’s full name is Lara Jean Song Covey, with Song derived from her mother’s Korean heritage. While the name “Song” and Lara Jean’s Korean heritage does get mentioned in the movie a few times, it’s not as present as it is in the book.
In the book, Lara Jean’s Korean heritage plays a huge role. It’s her major connection to her deceased mother. It also leads to scenes where Lara Jean is participating in Korean functions and celebrations with her extended Korean family. There is also a wonderful scene in the book where Lara Jean dresses as Cho Chang for Halloween because as an Asian it is the only character she feels she can be. It’s particularly pertinent because the lack of dress-up characters available to people of colour is definitely an experience that many of us have had, and still continue to have.
The lack of emphasis on Lara Jean’s Korean heritage is likely because of the lack of Korean actors in the movie itself. Lana Condor, who plays Lara Jean, is Vietnamese-American. Given the lack of Korean-Americans in the actual film, it would have felt disingenuous to make Lara Jean’s ties to her culture an integral theme of the novel.
The book of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before ends on a cliffhanger, with us unsure of what Lara Jean’s decision is about Peter. The movie, though, actually dips into a plot of the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, in order to give the story more stakes and create an ending that totally resonates.
So does the movie adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before live up to the book? Hell yes. Though there are differences, both the book and the movie has the same central theme. Both are brilliant. If you loved the book, I recommend you watch the movie. If you loved the movie, please check out the book.