Hadley missed her flight. The flight to London to attend her father’s wedding with a woman she’s never met. It should be one of the worst days of her life. But then she meets Oliver: tall, hot, British, and willing to help her through the claustrophobic hell that is flying. But upon reaching London, they lose track of each other. Will fate bring them together again or will life get the best of them? Can chance encounters really shape the rest of your life?
I like Jennifer E. Smith’s writing. I read This Is What Happy Looks Like a while ago, and I remember enjoying it. But I think her signature move of writing in the third person is ultimately harmful. Because there’s only so far that third person will take you. Without being able to fully get into Hadley’s head, the reader is left detached, and it’s a lot harder to care about her. It’s so so hard to write an emotional story in the third person. Action? Yes. Adventure? Of course. But not an emotion-driven romance. And while Smith’s prose is good and even often compelling, she doesn’t pull off the third person in this one.
That being said, I didn’t care about Hadley. At all. She was annoying and self-centered and fell prey to the YA trope of “I hate my parents and they don’t understand me so I’m going to be a bitch to them no matter what they do.” Which, I get it. Teenagers. But if every heroine is shown acting like that, well, it’s just bad influences all around.
The story was predictable, though that tends not to bother me so much in YA books. There’s really only like three plots used in contemporary YA, so once you figure those out, not much will surprise you. But this was more predictable and cliché than most. The story is not about love at first sight, nor does it have anything to do with the probability of it. The probability isn’t even really addressed except for one offhand comment and like two pages of contrived and unnecessary questioning. This story is about Hadley getting over her daddy issues. That’s it. We don’t know anything about Oliver except as it relates to Hadley’s self-centeredness.
That, I think, was the biggest disappointment of this book. He seemed like such an interesting character with the potential for so much depth, and none of it ever pans out. We don’t know anything about his family except for a few outbursts of emotion that Hadley turns into something about how she should have guessed or known. We don’t know his past, we don’t know his future, we don’t even ever learn what he’s studying. The novel tries to go deep without going forward or back, and that’s just not possible. Life doesn’t work like that. A person is the amalgamation of all the moments and emotions and experiences leading up to any particular moment. We’re constantly composed of the future as it flows out of us. The same goes for characters. So you just can’t write a romance between two characters without delving into both of them. It doesn’t work.
The book wasn’t bad. The prose was good, and the story kept moving, and it mostly kept my interest. To paraphrase a friend of mine, I wish there had been another draft of this book, to work out the kinks. To get rid of the slow and unnecessary parts and expand what needed to be expanded.
Plot: 5/10 More predictable than most, but there weren’t any major holes.
Writing: 5/10 The prose was good. Probably seven or eight out of ten. But setting it in the third person was a mistake.
Characters: 4/10 Hadley was annoying, and we don’t learn anything about Oliver.
Interest: 4/10 I wouldn’t re-read, but it held my interest for the most part as I was reading it.