Hyped books are a slippery slope. But after seeing how popular Beach Read by Emily Henry was, I was excited to listen to the People We Meet on Vacation audiobook and check out this author for myself. And sure, it’s a good book and all. It’s a New York Times bestseller et cetera. But it wasn’t for me. Here’s why…
People We Meet on Vacation Blurb
Two best friends. Ten summer trips. One last chance to fall in love.
Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.
Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.
Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.
Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?
From the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read, a sparkling new novel that will leave you with the warm, hazy afterglow usually reserved for the best vacations.
Why People We Meet on Vacation is NOT one of my Favorites of 2021
Beware, there will be some People We Meet on Vacation spoilers below!
While listening to the People We Meet on Vacation audiobook I felt a really odd dissonance. I couldn’t pinpoint it at first, but it felt like I was not the target audience for this book. It felt like Literary Fiction and not Romance. Where I expected a warm and fun atmosphere, Emily Henry’s book felt oddly somber, like that “millennial ennui” they were joking about.
After the witty banter in the first scene, I had certain expectations for the tone of the book. But that simply didn’t happen. It wasn’t funny or cute. But there also was no mutual pining or really any big emotions of any kind. I could not get over the fact that Alex and Poppy had already decided that they were not good as a couple, that they didn’t have a future, because they both wanted different things in their life, and that they wanted these things much more than they wanted each other.
Yes, I know, People We Meet on Vacation IS a Romance. It has the central love story, it has the required happy ending, it even has a grand gesture. And it still didn’t feel like a Romance novel to me. In large parts of the book, Poppy didn’t have much hope that things would turn out well. And Alex was just kinda bland and didn’t give off any vibes that he was pining for Poppy (only for another woman, actually). And hope or hopefulness is the thing why I really love reading Romance novels. Whether they are funny and light or angsty and dramatic, there needs to be this chemistry that tells you that these two people belong together, and the hope that it will happen and that everything else will turn out fine as well.
Honestly, if this book had ended not at the HEA, but later with both of them dying, in good old “love story fiction” form, it would have made more sense to me.
So, to circle back, it felt to me like People We Meet on Vacation is a Romance book written for people who usually read Literary Fiction, and only sometimes pick up a “beach read”. It is obvious from the reception among Romance readers that I am mostly alone with this feeling because this book is insanely popular and other people found the warm, fuzzy hopefulness that I couldn’t see. But for me, it didn’t work.
Alex and Poppy have the kind of chemistry that makes for great friends with an undercurrent of “I wonder if one day they will…”. It reminds me of TV shows like Castle where things are much more fun as long as there isn’t a romance, just the idea that maybe, one day… But once the two main characters take the step from a friendship with flirting and banter to an actual relationship, it just falls flat. Because it doesn’t feel like it could work long-term. Like they were meant to be a couple.
For me, Alex and Poppy didn’t find the fulfilling Happily Ever After that would make me believe that they would stay together, that there wouldn’t be resentment over having to put aside all their different life plans that had made them decide they would be better as friends.
I never got the feeling that Alex was all that into her. I mean, if I remember correctly, there wasn’t even any That Big Thing™ that would have forced him to stay in his hometown instead of finding a solution with Poppy. Instead, he was just like: “Meh, I rather stay here, you can go away, I don’t care”. What kind of partner is he if she is the only one who has to change? What kind of partner is he if he’s more hung up on another ex-girlfriend than on Poppy?
And at no point did my impression really change, I didn’t get the feeling that he did care enough. It all had to come from Poppy who was just a hot mess overall and maybe was more looking for a guy to fix her than to take control herself of her own life and happiness.
In some ways, I liked Poppy. I could empathize with her search for fulfillment, her wish to make a change in her life even though she seemed to have everything she wanted. But I would have liked for her to find something more than just Alex and the feeling of, “I guess I don’t totally hate the idea anymore to move back to my hometown for him”. And that’s what I really didn’t like about her, I have no idea who she is. This character is really surprisingly one-dimensional once you look behind all her seemingly complex struggles. She isn’t anything more than her complex struggles. She doesn’t seem to have anything that excites her, that she’s grateful for, that she’s passionate about.
So, is this book trying to cure depression with magical d*ck? Well, I’m not saying that. But I’m also not NOT saying that.
I guess this is a bit unfair because Poppy does go to therapy. But that’s just one of many things I couldn’t believe. I feel like this book has a case of “believe what I say, not what I do”. And the actions of Poppy and Alex are all just so… meh. They don’t scream epic love story. They don’t scream romance. They’re just… meh. And even if the book tells me that, in the end, Alex will move for Poppy, I just can’t believe it. Not after 10 years of actively deciding that he doesn’t want that.
There was not enough of an emotional development for me to believe that Alex’s feelings changed. I mean, Alex didn’t believe his feelings changed until Poppy left. So how am I supposed to believe that this will work out well?
After the long, long build-up of that pivotal moment that broke Poppy’s and Alex’s friendship, I had really hoped that it would be something insanely heartbreaking pertaining to Alex’s feelings for Poppy. Something that would make me believe that this was all insanely bad luck and the two are really meant to be together. But it wasn’t and I was disappointed.
Neither of them fights for this relationship.
There were many misunderstandings here between Poppy and Alex. And somehow, the book didn’t satisfyingly solve those for me. I didn’t finish the book thinking “oh, how nice that they have a good plan now where to live”. Instead, I left with this uncomfortable feeling that, if Alex hadn’t been willing for 10 years to find a good solution with Poppy, then maybe that’s an answer in and of itself. That at the core, the two didn’t misunderstand each other at all. They wanted very different lives and couldn’t find enough common ground to share their lives with each other. These two might be Happy For Now, but definitely not for Ever After.
All things considered, there were really only two reasons why I finished People We Meet on Vacation, and pretty swiftly at that. The first one is that Emily Henry writes beautiful words and it’s easy to follow along. The second is that Julia Whelan is a really good narrator. Although her somber tone kind of drove deeper the feeling of, you know, millennial ennui.
These People we met on vacation were not my kind of people, I guess.
Did you read or are you planning to read People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry?/