‘People We Meet on Vacation’ Was Not the Book I Expected

A hand holding the book 'People we meet on vacation' against a window in a forest, on a pale pink background with a yellow leaves pattern.

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An author who lives in my hometown of Cincinnati writing a book that features my favorite trope? Count me in.

I actually did not realize that People We Meet On Vacation was a friends-to-lovers story when I chose it for my next read. I picked it up from Book of the Month solely because I loved Emily Henry’s prior novel, Beach Read. Maybe I scanned the synopsis briefly, but honestly, I had no idea what to expect until I sat down to read the jacket flap before starting.

From the cover, if you’d asked me what I expected from People We Meet on Vacation, I’d probably have guessed that our romance centered around people who met, well… on vacation.

Instead, our heroine and hero already know one another and have been friends traveling the world together for several years. Color me (pleasantly) surprised.

Since I read How Not to Fall in Love directly prior, I was a little wary on overdoing a good trope. Thankfully, the two books could not approach the premise more differently. It helps that the characters are quite different in age, as well — HNTFIL is a YA rom-com, whereas PWMOV spans over ten years of friendship, well into the “career crises, back spasms, and homeownership” age range.

I hate to gush about two books in a row, but who am I kidding I love to gush about books.

The basic premise of People You Meet on Vacation is that best friends Polly and Alex met in college and started a tradition of taking an annual Summer Trip together. Polly becomes a travel blogger and then a travel writer for a prominent magazine in New York, while Alex stays in their Ohio hometown to teach high school and care for his aging father.

Through it all, the Summer Trip remains… until a misunderstanding puts it — and their entire friendship — on hiatus for two years.

Unhappy with her life and not sure why, Poppy receives the advice to think back to the last time she was happy, which of course brings her back to Alex and their last, fateful Summer Trip together.

So, naturally, she decides to see whether she can remedy things between them by asking him to take one more trip together to prove to him that it can be the way it was. The question is… is that really what either of them wants?

This was a really fun take on the friends-to-lovers story, with a nontraditional narrative structure in that it jumps in time throughout the various Summer Trips to slowly paint the picture of a long friendship and history of that “five to fifteen percent what-if” that goes unsaid between them.

Through this structure, we get to visit all kinds of places with them and see how their sense of adventure — and Polly’s career — shift and change over time from shoestring budget trips on a dime to the more lavish, all-expenses-paid trips she takes as a full-time travel writer for a magazine.

One of the things I enjoy about Henry as a writer is how she takes the familiar and puts just enough of a spin on it to make it feel new again. In Beach Read, I braced for the traditionally massive Bad Thing to get in the couple’s way, and it never quite came in the way I expected.

Here, the oh-so-fun “only one-bed” trope becomes a jumping-off point for Alex to have a back spasm from insisting upon sleeping on the pullout chair/bed, which subverted my expectations in a fun way.

Not that the bed doesn’t get used to full effect because of course, it does.

I devoured this book in a day while on a weekend trip to a lovely little cabin in the woods, which is always a special way to experience a book. Nevertheless, I know I would’ve loved it regardless of setting, and even if there weren’t fun little mentions of Cincinnati sprinkled in along the way.

I especially appreciated how the love story was allowed to be complicated, about more than just admitting feelings, but also thinking through how you combine two lives into one, and whether that can even fit what both parties want.

The declaration of love here is not the end-all-be-all of the relationship. Polly and Alex are living very different lives and have to work through whether they can make their separate wants and desires align enough to sustain their relationship. They both even go through a little bit of therapy before we can arrive on the doorstep of the Big Romantic Gesture and accompanying HEA.

Admittedly, I’m probably going to take a little breather from the friends to lovers trope with my next read, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thrilled to find that this book went in a direction the title did not prepare me for.

There are still plenty of people that we meet on vacation with Polly and Alex through it all, but I loved this take of falling in love while traveling together rather than meeting someone to fall in love with in some exotic location.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a good summer read, who loves travel, or who (like me) just can’t get enough of the friends-to-lovers trope.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

Published by AmandaKay

Amanda Kay Oaks is a Pittsburgh based writer originally from Cincinnati. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Chatham University. Currently, she works in Student Affairs and as adjunct faculty. When she's not working, writing, or curled up with a good book, Amanda can usually be found in the kitchen whipping up something delicious, sprawled out on her yoga mat, or off on a run.

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