I have so many mixed feelings about this book, but in the end, Emily Henry told a story where I cared deeply about the characters. I can tell I’ve reacted emotionally to a book when I’m thinking about the characters in the days after I’ve put the book down. It’s a combination of missing the characters, feeling sad or happy for them, and sort of wondering what they might be doing next. I don’t encounter that very often with books, and I did with this one.
Poppy is spontaneous and free-spirited, wears colorful clothes, loves to travel, and doesn’t want to be tied down. Alex is studying literature, he’s careful and quiet, obsessive about going to the gym but not great with people. This book builds on pretty common romance tropes: friends to lovers and opposites attract.
I feel like I should note that I’m one of the few people that hasn’t read Henry’s Beach Read, so this review won’t be a comparison of the two.
There were a few things I loved about this book. First, I enjoyed the banter between the two characters; Henry is a strong dialogue writer. And second, I love to travel, so a story structured around traveling really appealed to me. I enjoyed seeing the world with these characters, and it took me back to some of my own happy and not-so-happy travel memories.
But this wasn’t a perfect book. I found both the language and story repetitive. Henry seems to use certain phrases a lot, and I didn’t always love the jumping back and forth in time — I often wanted them to hurry up and get back to the present. While it was nice to see their relationship develop over time, there wasn’t that much that changed from year to year. I also had a few editing issues. For example, there’s a place where the author spends a lot of time talking about a photo taken in Tuscany, only the characters haven’t been to Tuscany yet, and then when they go, there’s a discussion of the photo again. If you’re going to write a book with a strict chronological structure, it helps to stick to that structure, and each jump in time should be really integral to their relationship.
I strongly identified with Alex, but I was often annoyed by Poppy and found her thoughtless. I nearly put the book down after Poppy complains about her sad childhood with two loving parents who taught her to be confident and an independent thinker (which is not to say that her teen years were easy, but I struggled with the way it was presented). There was a lot of “poor Poppy” in this book, despite her fantastic job, her thoughtful boss, and of course her very best friend Alex, who’s there for her whenever she needs him.
I’m not crazy about books built around “perfect” people, and two-thirds of the way in, this is what I was thinking about this book. But by the end of the book these two characters got under my skin, in a good way, and I wish the whole book had been as well-developed as the last third of it. It’s then that the writing really became more thoughtful and I started having “aha” moments where I identified with the characters. I liked how the author included therapy in the story, and that it takes a while for the main character to understand herself.
Noting here that I tried not to be spoiler-y in this review, but feel free to stop here if you don’t want to know more about how the characters develop (I prefer to know as little as possible when I read a book).
For example, I loved the way Poppy starts thinking about what she really loves about traveling. She talks about how when you travel, you get to be someone else. You get to step outside your comfort level, because any risks you take don’t really matter, because everyone you’re meeting is just temporary. I find traveling with friends really stressful. I don’t stress about traveling with my husband, but I think that’s because we’ve learned how to do it over time. Our first few trips together definitely had some disasters, but we pushed past them. Traveling with friends is different, because if something goes wrong or you annoy each other, you take that back to your regular life.
Vacations always end. It’s the very fact that it’s finite that makes traveling special. You could move to any one of those destinations you loved in small doses, and it wouldn’t be the spellbinding, life-altering seven days you spend there as a guest, letting a place into your heart fully, letting it change you.People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Poppy also begins to realizes that some of her love of travel might also be running away from her real life, or fear of getting close to people. There’s a scene where she runs into a high school classmate who bullied her, not in her hometown but in New York City. So maybe all that running was pointless, and all it did was keep her from people she loved.
I appreciate the title of the book because what I ultimately liked about this book is that it’s about more than two people who are hot for each other. (Noting the UK title is You and Me on Vacation, which I don’t like as much.) This is a character- and relationship-focused novel more than a romance.
I often find endings a letdown, especially in romances, but this one came together for me.
Last notes: the audiobook is read by Julia Whelan, a highly-acclaimed narrator who also did The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It was a very good listen, though I do think Whelan’s Alex sounded an awful lot like Addie LaRue‘s Henry (both sensitive, introspective guys).
I read this book because it was this month’s Book Club pick for Modern Mrs. Darcy. I also read this for the 20 Books of Summer challenge.