By Emily Henry
“Sometimes I think that’s why we’re so drawn to each other. Because he’s used to being the steadfast big brother and I’m used to being the annoying little sister. It’s a dynamic we understand: I lovingly tease him; he makes the entire world feel safer for me.”
I really liked this romance mostly due to the male lead, Alex, and to a slightly lesser extent, Poppy. Alex is a very well-drawn and unusual character, especially for the role of a romantic hero. Emily Henry really brings both him and Poppy to life. Alex is uptight, careful, reserved, and responsible, while Poppy is gregarious, funny, and a little wild. Sounds like a typical opposites-attract dynamic but Emily makes them both so multi-layered, likable, and funny that it feels fresh. Both characters are grounded in their early life experiences and unusual family situations. Alex’s father checked out of fatherhood after the death of his wife and Alex was left to raise his three younger brothers. Poppy is from a loving but quirky family. Mom and Dad are sweet and folksy whose home is bursting at the seams because they won’t throw anything out. On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re about a 7 on the hoarder scale. She grew up feeling “less than” only wanting to escape her small Ohio town. She does so with a vengeance and very successfully.
She and Alex meet at the University of Chicago and become the best of friends. Poppy has a successful career in New York City, and Alex is a small-town high school teacher. But they meet once a year to go on vacation together. Their adventures make up the book as their relationship continues to develop during their early trips on a shoestring budget to Poppy’s luxurious and glamorous getaways courtesy of her employer, a travel magazine. We start in the present day after Poppy and Alex have had a mysterious falling out 2 years prior and have been incommunicado ever since. They are miserable without each other, at least we know Poppy is, and she takes the first steps to repair the relationship by suggesting another vacation, this time to Palm Springs for Alex’s little brother’s wedding.
The book is very funny, both witty and comic, and the friends to lovers trope is romantic and sweet. The happy ending is hard-won as the obstacles are real and understandable. It is not a case where soulmates are kept apart by a big misunderstanding or sheer stupidity. I liked another of her books, Beach Read but I found this one even better. I listened to this on Audible and the narration was terrific, particularly her interpretation of Poppy’s mother and father and of the taciturn but nurturing Alex, who only seems to come out of his shell around Poppy.**4 1/2 stars**
September 8, 2021