Emily Henry is a pro at taking fairly innocuous contexts like vacation and turning it into fertile ground to explore deeply emotional subjects. This is no different.
Plot: Alex and Poppy did a road trip in college to visit family and despite being polar opposites in every way, became best friends. Alex stayed in their home town and set up roots while Poppy couldn’t get away fast enough, but every year, they still made time to go on vacation together. One minor hiccup. They’re in love with each other and are completely terrified of the prospect of losing their friendship if they pursue these others feelings. Can their friendship survive that tension? Ten years of vacations, two years of radio silence, and things finally come to a head. Shenanigans ensue.
If you haven’t read Beach Read, prepare yourself for very angsty storytelling set against a backdrop of scenic locations. There is very very little action in this book – I think even less action than in Beach Read, which also had just about nothing happen in it. If you enjoy plot-driven stories, Henry is not going to work for you as an author. If you like hard core character studies with bits of humour sprinkled in, this might be your best read in ages. Henry is now two for two for getting me out of a reading slump (though I’ll admit to enjoying Beach Read a bit more).
Henry makes her characters work hard for their happy ending. I find this interesting because broadly speaking, I have very little interest in or patience for the angst of well to do people shooting themselves in the leg and then crying over the blood. Yet Henry makes these characters’ issues feel universal, and I find myself invested despite myself. She also doesn’t settle for leaving any questions unturned. As a person that frequently critiques books for failing to address practical limitations for a relationship, assuming critical problems will just solve themselves once people drop the Big L, Henry doesn’t leave these big questions of compatibility to the reader’s imagination.
Some readers critiqued the friends to lovers story as unbelievable because of just how different the characters are and how little chemistry they have, but I think it is very much a matter of perspective. If you typically read romance that leans very heavily on characters acting intensely jealous, waxing poetic about the other characters physical attributes, struggling to control themselves around the other person, feelings that evolve over days and conflicts that come to a head in days because the intensity of the passion cannot be denied another moment… That sort of thing doesn’t really come up here. The bond is first and foremost one of mutual respect and platonic affection with a bit of snarkiness arising out of a desperation to keep their less platonic feelings from one another to preserve the friendship they value. They are both adults and for the most part behave as such with one another. For some readers, this will feel bland. For others, it will feel true to life and relatable. Your mileage will no doubt vary.
With regards to their differences, yes, they are vastly different. To me , their differences seemed to superficial and easily overcome, but some readers struggled with this pairing. I think this book, at its core, really tried to grapple with the question of what an opposites-attract story means – what being different from a person you care about means and how these differences can sometimes mean that a relationship has a natural expiry date and sometimes it can, with the right conditions and tending, grow into something longstanding. That what many people conceive of as the types of compromises one has to make to ensure a relationship persists may be compromises the other person never asked for and that end up hurting everyone involved. That true compromise in any relationship allows you to still be your full self, while also making space for someone’s else’s full self. It’s a pretty rad idea that, speaking from experience, was executed very true to life.