To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You pits Peter Kavinsky against John Ambrose in the battle for Lara Jean’s heart. Can it make Peter the convincing correct choice?
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before made Peter Kavinsky the kind of high school boyfriend that even 30+ year olds could swoon over, making it easy for viewers to cheer for him and Lara Jean to figure it out and get together.
From everything that we’ve seen, P.S. I Still Love You will open with Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky blissfully in love the way that high school couples are — holding hands in the hallway, taking Instagram photos at the fair, treating Valentine’s Day as the single biggest event of the year, and pairing up for partner projects in class.
The trailers have treated us to multiple shots and scenes of Peter and Lara Jean gazing adoringly at one another, reminding us all over again why we swooned for Peter Kavinsky, why we wanted Lara Jean to be our best friend, and why we rooted with all our heart for the two of them to get together.
However, the upcoming sequel to 2018’s sweetest, softest teen romcom throws huge wrench in the happily ever after of Peter K and Lara Jean in the sweet, charming and smart character of John Ambrose McClaren.
Now, before I get into the bulk of this article, I want to put a spoiler alert out there for any fans who haven’t read the books, so —
[Spoiler alert for Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You]
Now that we have that out of the way, let me give you my P.S. I Still Love You book hot take:
Lara Jean should’ve chosen John Ambrose McClaren over Peter Kavinsky at the end of the book.
As absolutely swoon-worthy as Peter is in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and as fantastic of a boyfriend as he is in the third book of the series, Forever and Always, Lara Jean, Peter Kavinsky in the middle of the trilogy — P.S. I Still Love You — is, at best, a rather clueless boyfriend and, at worst, a really bad one.
He’s anywhere from cagey to outright dismissive of Lara Jean’s concerns and insecurities, and the fact that he spends a good portion of the book hiding the truth of Gen’s involvement with the release of the hot tub makeout video puts him squarely in bad boyfriend territory to me.
And though him comforting Gen at every other turn of the story makes sense given what we find out about Gen’s parents at the end of the book, I still found it unsettling and rather disrespectful to Lara Jean and their relationship — especially given the history between Lara Jean and Gen — that he wasn’t more forthcoming or more understanding about Lara Jean’s concerns.
John Ambrose, on the other hand, is attentive and supportive throughout the entire book, sweet and warm the way that Peter Kavinsky was throughout the first book.
There’s also the added level of the fact that, on paper, John Ambrose and Lara Jean just seem to be a better match for one another, both in terms of personality types and interests. While Peter has always loved the limelight and flourished in it, John Ambrose — like Lara Jean — has always felt more comfortable just to the left of it. Both of them are smart, focused on school and their grades in the way that prototypical jock Peter isn’t.
The two of them reconnect in P.S. I Still Love You by writing letters back and forth to one another, with John Ambrose’s kindness, wit and warmth coming through his words just as Lara Jean’s comes through in hers. As the book progresses, John Ambrose is always respectful and supportive towards Lara Jean, helping her put together the USO-themed party at Stormy’s retirement home and comforting and supporting Lara Jean when she needs it, without being the slightest bit pushy.
The two share some truly swoon-worthy moments together in the latter half of the story, while Peter essentially disappears from view (which makes sense, given what happens to the two in the back half of the book). In fact, John Amrbose and Lara Jean seem so well suited for each other and so into one other that when it comes time for Lara Jean to choose between Peter and John Ambrose in the book, I was almost sure she’d pick John Ambrose.
In fact, she even tells John, “Of all the boys, you’re the one I would pick.”
And yet…she does not pick him. Despite all the ways he’s perfect on paper and — seemingly — in person, Lara Jean realizes that she still loves Peter. She, in her words, ‘can’t help it’ because ‘he got to her heart first and that he just won’t leave.’
It’s a rather baffling decision to me — though I will fully admit that I, a woman in her 30s, am clearly not the book’s target audience. I can see that it’s a decision that’s all heart, which makes sense given who Lara Jean’s character is, but falls flat to me as a reader and fan of Lara Jean.
And this is not only because John Ambrose has proven himself to be at least equal to — if not superior — to Peter as a match for Lara Jean, but because Lara Jean falls back to passivity in the making of it.
It doesn’t feel as though she chooses Peter because he’s the one she wants, but rather that she can’t help but go back to him because she doesn’t quite know how to leave. It’s her letting life and love happen to her as a passive bystander, rather than involving herself in both as an active participant.
As much as I like Peter and John Ambrose, I love Lara Jean as a character. She’s someone I wish I had to look up to when I was growing up, someone I want other young girls to admire, and someone I want all the best for as an adult woman.
Because of that, I want to see her as an active participant in her own life and in her choices in love. And even though I have spent this entire article talking about how much I like John Ambrose better, I don’t think she needs to choose him to be that active participant in her own life; rather, all the P.S. I Still Love You movie adaptation needs to do is make Peter Kavinsky the undisputed and utterly convincing correct choice for Lara Jean in a way that the book version didn’t quite do.
This doesn’t mean making John Ambrose worse to prop up Peter’s character; after all, love triangles are more compelling when both choices are good ones. Instead, what I hope to see is more time with Peter and Lara Jean as a couple, unfettered by any outside drama, and Lara Jean understanding that love is a choice as much as it is a feeling — and then choosing Peter because she wants to be with Peter, not because she can’t help it.
The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before adaptation actually already did a lot of this work, first by making movie Peter much more sweet and charming and charismatic than book Peter, then by resolving the release of the hot tub video much quicker and sooner than the books did.
It’s another article for another day, but there’s no doubt in my mind that movie Peter is a much, much better romcom heartthrob than book Peter. Part of that is Noah Centineo’s absolutely electric chemistry with Lana Condor, which leaps off the screen and makes us squeal with feels any time the two are together. But part of that is also all the little moments in the script that have served to soften Peter’s character, immediately making him more of a soft jock with an obvious yearning for Lara Jean than the book’s more sarcastic and sharper-edged version.
Resolving the hot tub video leak quickly likewise makes it easier to see Peter as the correct choice.
The hot tub video takes up a good third of the book version of P.S. I Still Love You, with the video being shared endlessly as a meme, popping up on computer screens throughout the school and even getting played on the big screen during a pep rally. The entire time that this is going on, Lara Jean is sure — and, we find out, rightfully so — that Gen is behind both the taking of the video and the leaking of it, while Peter is staunchly convinced that it couldn’t possibly be Gen.
That’s why finding out that Peter eventually knew the truth of it — that Lara Jean was right — but didn’t tell Lara Jean feels like such a betrayal. It felt like him siding with Gen over Lara Jean, no matter how good his intentions might have been.
In the movie version, however, the drama of the video is dealt with quickly. There’s no long back and forth between Lara Jean and Peter about it, and she doesn’t wait for Peter to deal with the fallout of the video. Rather, she confronts Gen herself, and while Peter doesn’t necessarily back Lara Jean up, he also doesn’t get in her way.
Not having to deal with that particular betrayal in the sequel has already done a lot to make Peter a better choice for Lara Jean, and given what we see in the trailer, it seems that not having to deal with the drama of the hot tub video will leave much more time to watch Lara Jean and Peter be adorable together and fall even more in love with their love.
Giving us more drama-free, conflict-free time with Peter and Lara Jean — no hot tub video haunting them, no John Ambrose lurking at the edges — will allow us to see all the ways Peter and Lara Jean are good together as one another’s first choice. From there, P.S. I Still Love You can then show us that while John Ambrose may be a better match on paper, there’s something missing between him and Lara Jean that isn’t missing when we see Lara Jean and Peter together.
In that way, we can understand that even if the circumstances of Peter and Lara Jean getting together were unconventional, and even if they don’t quite seem well-suited on paper, the reality of their relationship just makes sense in the way that all great love stories do.
Rom coms are structured in such a way that the big damn kiss and the grand confession of love are the endpoint. From there it’s right straight through to happily ever after.
But real life relationships aren’t structured like that. The big damn kiss and grand confession of love are the beginning, and the happily ever after is something you actually have to work for every single day.
That’s the reality that Lara Jean will experience in this movie, a thing so rarely seen in the world of rom coms: What happens after the big damn kiss.
Which means that Lara Jean — the girl who loves falling in love — will suddenly be faced with the reality of actually being in love, and realizing the difference between the two is vast.
Now I know that this is a teen romcom, and it’s okay for teen romances to be all heart. I know it doesn’t need to be that deep. I know it could just give us good feelings and be a great story.
But like I said earlier, I’m protective of Lara Jean and want the best for her — which means I want to see her grow as a character. I want her to continue to understand what she learned in the first film: that daydreams might be beautiful, but reality is better just by virtue of being real — even if it’s more work and more pain at times. I think the next phase in her development, then, is understanding that love is absolutely a great and wonderful feeling, but that it’s also a choice you make in your head as much as a feeling you have in your heart.
Basically, I want her to choose Peter because she wants Peter, not because she can’t help but choose him. Which means Peter not only needs to become a better choice, Lara Jean needs to recognize that being in love is a choice.
Rather than allowing events to happen to her and being buffeted back and forth by her feelings, my hope is that P.S. I Still Love You forces Lara Jean to look at her choices, carefully sort through them, and actively choose Peter.
When she winds up with Peter — and we know she will, because they’re already filming the third movie — I don’t want it to be because he’s in her heart and she can’t make him leave; I want him to be in her heart because she chose for him to be there.
There’s a difference, after all, between “I can’t help it” and “I could help it and this is the path I chose,” and it’s that difference that will decide whether I mourn the could-have-been with John Ambrose and Lara Jean or rejoice in the love between Peter and Lara Jean.
For as much as I love this series and care about Lara Jean, I sincerely hope it’s the latter.