In 'Always And Forever, Lara Jean,' Jenny Han Says Goodbye To Her Beloved YA Heroine
Lara Jean Covey first stole readers' hearts in the 2014 young adult novel To All The Boys I've Loved Before. So much so, that fans followed her adventures in love, sisterhood, baking, and high school in 2015's P.S. I Still Love You. But that was supposed to be the end. Author Jenny Han promised the world two Lara Jean books — and she gave the world two Lara Jean books.
But then Han shocked everyone when she announced that she would publish one more book in the series: Always and Forever, Lara Jean, out May 2. She tells Bustle the decision took her by surprise, too.
"I was working on something else, and I had been working on it for several years and it really just wasn't coming to me as easily as I'd hoped. I just hadn't figured out how to unlock the key to it," Han tells Bustle. "So I just saw myself feeling really nostalgic about Lara Jean. There are actually a couple storylines that I wanted to finish out in the second book that I didn't, so I thought that I could do that with this last book."
One such storyline? The end of Lara Jean's high school career. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Han makes the unconventional decision to focus on one of the most important (and most overlooked, in literature at least) experiences of any teenager's life: college admissions.
"My one goal with these books has been to tell a truthful story," Han says. "I think when you have YA books that are about seniors in high school, that's pretty much what senior year is — getting ready for that next step and making those big decisions."
Things are going pretty well for Lara Jean when the book opens. She's still obsessively baking (a hobby Jenny Han shares), she's doing well in school, she's made new friends, and, of course, she's head over heels in like (love?) with her dreamy boyfriend, Peter. But it's senior year — and that means it's time for her to make some tough decisions about what comes next.
Lara Jean has her heart set on attending nearby University of Virginia (UVA), where Peter has already been admitted on a lacrosse scholarship. She can't help but let herself imagine four years of collegiate paradise with him:
"I let myself dream about it for a minute. If I get in, what am I most looking forward to? There are so many things, I can hardly name them all. I'm looking forward to eating waffles every day with Peter in the dining hall. To us sledding down O-Hill when it snows. To picnics when it's warm. To staying up all night talking and then waking up and talking some more. To late-night laundry and last-minute road trips."
But, of course, life throws Lara Jean a curve ball, and she's forced to reconsider her future entirely: is UVA really the place where she belongs? Or would she be better off at William and Mary? Or maybe even someplace further from home (and Peter), like The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill? When the ground is shaken underneath her feet, Lara Jean scrambles to find her balance — and readers may be surprised by where she lands.
Another thing readers may find surprising? Seeing schools like UVA, UNC, and William and Mary featured in the book, as opposed to say... Stanford, Harvard, or Yale. Jenny Han made a conscious decision to portray the realities of college admission as honestly as she could — and that meant being pragmatic about which universities Lara Jean would most likely be interested in attending.
"Often times, you'll see in life or on TV or just media in general, people get into these great colleges. But you didn't see them study that much or do extracurriculars," she says. "But nowadays, it is so hard to get into college. I mean, it was hard when we were doing it, but it's really hard now because: A) it's gotten so much more expensive, but B) these schools are more and more competitive. And so it's just not realistic to have your character kind of just get into Harvard and be just a straight-A student. I mean that's just not a realistic thing to have happen in a story."
Jenny Han really wanted Lara Jean's experience with college admission to feel true to the experiences of real teenagers, so she made sure to do plenty of on-the-ground work to get the details right. "What I really didn't want was for my teen readers to be like, 'This feels so not like real life,' because I actually did a lot of research," she says, adding that she traveled to UVA's campus to talk with the Dean of Admissions and the lacrosse department. "It's funny, you wouldn't think for a realistic, contemporary novel about getting into college that you would need that much research, but I think I put in more than I usually do for this book."
Ultimately, Lara Jean makes the decision that works best for her — even though it's scary and means making some hard compromises in her relationships with family and friends. But that's what the book — and senior year — are all about: facing the future head-on, as frightening as it may be. Lara Jean tackles multiple changes in this book — her dad and his girlfriend decide to take things to the next level, she chooses her home for the next four years, and she says goodbye to a beloved friend — and she doesn't always deal with those changes in a healthy way. And that's OK.
"The big conflict of the first book is so much about change and the way that families change," Han says. "[Lara Jean's] whole inner conflict is her resistance to change and desire for feeling secure, and I wanted her to kind of come up against the changes again, but be able to meet them head on."
As you recall, Lara Jean's mother died when she was a child, but she still has an incredible, supportive family — an older sister, Margot; a younger sister, Kitty; and her father. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean, her family unit will shift into something completely different — but not necessarily in a bad way.
"I was thinking a lot about that theme of families changing because it doesn't really go away as you get older," Han says. "It doesn't matter what age you are, but your family will keep on changing and there's nothing you can do about it. Even as an adult, at some point, you're going to lose a parent or a grandparent. In all those different ways, families change, and I think being able to be resilient and be adaptable and keep moving, that's what I wanted to focus on for her. I wanted her come to a place where she's going to be OK with those changes."
In the end, Lara Jean seems at peace with the uncertainty of her future — and readers will be, too. This is, after all, the end. Jenny Han is finally done with Lara Jean.
For good this time.
"This third book just feels like bonus," she tells Bustle. "I thought I was saying goodbye before, then I was like, 'Just one more round with the gang.' And now, it really is OK to say goodbye."
Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han is available wherever books are sold.