The Bossy Bookworm
Review of Happy Place by Emily Henry
Six longtime friends gather for one last Maine vacation--but each of them has been keeping secrets that impact their relationships. The story's tension requires ongoing misunderstandings, and I was impatient with the prolonged lack of communication.
Harriet and Win were attracted to each other from the start, but they spent ages trying to deny it for fear of upending their close-knit friend group if things didn't work out.
Now they've been engaged for six years, they're desperately in love, and they've been dating long-distance while Harriet pursues her residency and Win, a furniture repair person, helps his sick mother at home in Montana.
For years they've taken annual trips to their friend Sabrina's cottage in Maine with the rest of their group, building traditions, strengthening their friendships, and enjoying their happy place.
So this year, when their friends surprise Harriet upon her arrival with the fact that Win was able to come after all, it should be a good--no, a great--thing.
Except, Harriet and Win broke up months ago...and haven't told anyone yet.
Harriet is heartbroken and reeling at being bunked up with Win, but after Sabrina shares big news of her own, Harriet doesn't feel she and Win can come clean. Meanwhile, everyone expects them to act like they're in love and for them to take part in years-old traditions and celebrations.
I couldn't get over how odd and unlikely it was that Win and Harriet never spoke about the reason for their breakup. This setup allows for an enormous misunderstanding/I thought I was reading your mind/I misread the situation to a tragic degree combination of errors to persist. Self-esteem issues and a lack of basic communication of feelings, goals, and needs compound the problem and ensure that nothing is resolved for a prolonged period.
There's an enormous career shift that felt an awful lot like a woman giving up a career for a guy, although Henry emphasizes that dissatisfaction with the actuality of the job is what spurs the abandonment of years of schooling and training. I couldn't decide if I wanted this character's hobby to become the new career or not, and I was happy with the way Henry went with this decision.
For much of the book, Harriet's parents are presented as emotionally distant and focused on appearances rather than being tuned into her happiness, then late in the game they shifted to be warm and accepting, involved, and supportive; this redemption felt overly convenient.
The intimacy of the friends felt claustrophobic at times--although the reliance on inside jokes and the insistence that things should be done the way they always have in their friend group is largely driven my one character.
The grown-up friends' ability to move past the evolutions of their relationships was a highlight. Happy Place involves steamy scenes and will-they/won't-they tensions. Win and Harriet's interactions, when they do begin communicating, are lovely and sweet and funny and heartbreaking.
As a former Mainer, I loved that the book was set in Maine, but I didn't get a strong sense of the place; despite the inclusion of mentions of lobster and the coast, it felt like it was set elsewhere somehow.
I received a prepublication audiobook edition of this book (to be released April 25) courtesy of Libro.fm and Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Henry's Beach Read was one of my favorite books the year I read it, and it made it onto the Greedy Reading List Six Lighter Fiction Stories for Great Escapism.
People We Meet on Vacation was another great Henry story; you can check out my review here, and you might like to check out its spot on Six More Great Light Fiction Stories plus the five other titles on that Greedy Reading List.