To All the Books I’ve Loved Before

by Jessica Stevens

photo by Kim-Sarah

Sarah Dessen, Ally Carter and Jenny Han changed my life. As the preeminent teen romance novelists of my generation, their books became the building blocks of my future. I know what you’re thinking. Teen romance novels aren’t exactly classic literature. They’re predictable and cheesy: boy meets girl, boy and girl fight, get back together and live happily ever after -- all at the tender age of 16. Perhaps they aren’t entirely realistic, but they changed my reality.

In elementary school, we had to read for twenty minutes nightly, which in my world felt like two hours. Reading was hard. I struggled with the words, read slowly and thought it was boring. Usually in tears after five minutes, I would give up. “Maybe she’s just a late bloomer,” were the words of my principal at my fourth grade evaluation. As my friends were starting to read The Chronicles of Narnia, I was still drawing in my sparkly notebook with colored pencils.

Being called a “late bloomer” upset me. Determined to prove them wrong, I took matters into my own hands. I tried reading the same books as the other kids, hoping one would make me eager to flip the page. Diary of a Wimpy Kid had too many fart jokes. Holes was too scary. Harry Potter was simply too long.

Undeterred, I dragged my mother to the bookstore weekly, roaming the aisles hoping that a book would captivate my attention. Then there it was; with ransom note lettering and a girl in a preppy uniform on the cover: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, by Ally Carter. I read all 284 pages of spy training and unrequited love at the Gallagher Academy by the next night. I was eleven and had never finished a book, let alone in 24 hours. I had finally found the answer.

Like most pre-teen girls, I fantasized about high school, boyfriends and the next chapter in my life, which these books helped me imagine. As I relished every new release by my favorite authors, I didn’t realize then that reading was no longer a chore. It had become a pathway to new possibilities.

If I learned anything from Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, it’s that words can change lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most sophisticated book out there or the most childish. It is about what sparks something inside of you. Teen Romance novels sparked my love for reading and writing which led me to my love for journalism.

Now alongside the romance novels piled on my desk is a stack of high school newspapers. Without these female authors, I would not have discovered one of my passions and may not fully appreciate the power of the written word.

Without any shame, I am proud to say I still love my teen romance novels. They remind me of who I was and who I have become. Someday I’ll donate them to the library so another little girl can find her inspiration, but for now, I can’t bear to part with these books. Yes, they are cheesy and probably not the most admired reads in the academic world, but without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I probably wouldn’t be at Boston University and I certainly wouldn’t be a journalism major.