Happy Place by Emily Henry: romance review

Happy Place
 by Emily Henry

Overview: Harriet found her friend group for life in college. They might as well be her family. They've grown together through graduation and law school and medical school and one member leaving to go to South America to learn organic farming because they always come back together to spend a week in Maine every year at one friend's family summer house. Now, as they confront true adulthood and the changes that come with it, they have one more summer together before the house is sold to set the course of the future of their bonds. Overall: 4

Do I think this is an incredible romance? Maybe not. But it is a great book. 

Characters: 4 There's a lot of characters in this book. The core friend group is six people, plus we get a closer look at both Harriet and her ex-fiancĂ© Wyn's families. They're all well developed and have good dimension despite there being so many characters involved. 

Harriet is at a crisis point in her life. She's in the thick of a medical residency that's sucking the life out of her. After her fiancĂ© leaves to help care for his mother in Montana, he calls to break up with her in a four minute phone call. She doesn't know how to tell her friends what happened, so she stops talking to them too. Harriet is so scared of disappointing people–being a burden–that she doesn't let the people in her life in close enough to understand what's happening in her mind which just causes more misunderstanding. Harriet's journey is learning how to admit that everything isn't fine to herself and eventually how to let her walls down enough to bring everyone who cares about her in on that. By getting flashbacks to her relationship with Wyn and also key moments with her parents growing up, it's clear how Harriet forms the coping mechanisms she has and why they simply don't work anymore. 

Wyn struggles between his love for Harriet and his own needs and that of his family. He followed her to San Fransisco for her residency, but he was lonely, isolated, and largely without work there. When he leaves to take care of his mom in Montana, he doesn't know what to make of Harriet seeming indifferent. Wyn's better able to wear his heart on his sleeve which makes for an interesting dynamic between the two of them. 

Cleo, her girlfriend Kimmy, and Sabrina and her boyfriend, Parth, make up the rest of the friend group. As they've gotten older, their lives have pulled in different directions, and they're all struggling in their own ways to cope with that. Cleo is fiercely independent and feels stifled by Sabrina's insistence on clinging to the past. Sabrina is terrified of losing the stability she's found in this friendship as they become adults, and her father selling the house in Maine only exacerbates her desire to control the parts of her life she still has a grasp on. They all have to once more learn how to grow as individuals before they can figure out how to continue growing together, and the book does a great job of exploring how communication breaks down between friends, family, and romantic partners. 

Plot: 4 I struggled to get into the beginning of the book, but that could've also been completely my fault with what else was going on in my life at the moment distracting me. I picked it up yesterday having muddled through about 11% in a week's time and then finished the entire rest of the book that afternoon. I got super invested in whether the friend group was going to make it through this turn of adulthood, and I was genuinely confused about whether there'd be a happily ever after even in the final 5% of the book. Getting more depth on Harriet's parents and the experiences she'd had with Wyn before the break-up also added information that heightened the stakes of the in-the-moment plot even though I wasn't the biggest fan of the flashbacks at first. 

If you're looking for a quintessential-feeling romance novel, you might be disappointed. Even though Henry is heralded as the queen of the genre, this is by far her least romance driven novel yet. That's fine by me. While I occasionally read romance if it's by an author I already like, I'm not a fan of most of the genre conventions and all encompassing focus on love, and they're largely absent here. The will-they-won't-they get back together plot line felt like a B or C plot in the background of the friend and growing up stories that played out on the page. It is minimally spicy for those concerned with that in either direction, and it wasn't some epic love story between Harriet and Wyn that kept me reading. I would've been perfectly happy (if the book wasn't going to be billed as a romance) to see it be a story where they realized that they did deeply love each other but that it was just the wrong time in their lives to be together. It reads far more like a commercial contemporary fiction novel than a true romance, in my opinion, which is either a huge plus or minus depending on where you fall in wanting super tropey, classic romance stories. 

Writing: 4 I'm never totally blown away by the sentence level writing in Henry's books, but her most recent ones have done an incredible job of twisting together lots of complex themes and aspects of characters to make a very full, rich, compelling picture. There's glimmers of her YA roots that come through in the stories she chooses to tell, which I love, in that there's always a strong coming of age backbone. That's especially true in Happy Place. She does a good job of highlighting how the major life changes and growing up moments don't stop after your teens or early twenties and that life is truly a series of never ending adjustments. I also like that she draws so many other threads into her romance. While Book Lovers was much more romance-forward in my opinion, I've found myself drawn to her books for their balance of a number of aspects like sisterhood, friendships, and career. They're very much about creating fully realized words and people.

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

book review: maame

into romance with Kate Bromley

book review: the guest


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