Book Review: People We Meet on Vacation


Rhea Howard

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and the 2021 Goodreads Choice Award Winner for Best Romance. Naturally, I trusted that this book would be worth the purchase. I’m warning you now, this book is FAR from that. It’s not even worth checking it out of the library. Instead of drawing me in, People We Meet on Vacation effectively ruined my summer.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

People We Meet on Vacation is about a middle aged woman named Poppy who works for a travel magazine. She secretly is in love with her college friend, Alex, but for twelve years she never acted on it. Poppy and Alex used to go on all expenses paid vacations every summer, until one summer something happened between them that led them to stop talking. One summer, two years after the incident, Poppy goes through a midlife crisis and thinks back to the time in her life when she was happiest, which was when she was with Alex on vacation. Poppy tries to reconcile their relationship by inviting him on vacation with her like old times. The story follows Poppy’s perspective, often switching between her and Alex’s past and present vacation.

I have so many issues with this book, even down to the title, which is completely misleading. Poppy and Alex met in their freshman year of college and traveled on vacations together. A romance novel titled People We Meet on Vacation insinuates that the main character meets the love interest on vacation. The UK version, titled You and Me on Vacation, fits better with the plot. One of the main reasons I picked up this book, aside from my blind trust in Goodreads, was because I was eager to read about a beautiful vacation spot somewhere in Europe or South America. Instead, Poppy decides on a budget vacation spot: Palm Springs, California. You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with Palm Springs? That sounds like fun.” However, Palm Springs is in the middle of the desert and their Airbnb had no air conditioning. Instead of the exotic summer getaway I was anticipating, I was transported across the country to a place so hot it can only be described as the Armpit of Hell. The actual vacation was overshadowed by how much Poppy complained about the heat. It got to the point where I could not focus on anything other than how sweaty and disgusting Poppy probably was.

Unlike many other main characters, Poppy was unbearable to read about. Poppy, a grown woman, wet the bed and refused to shower for multiple days because of the broken air conditioning. Poppy made many questionable choices with no forethought, including pretending that she was taking Alex on a vacation paid for by her travel magazine but actually paying for the whole trip herself. This directly contradicted the statement prior Poppy made about how broke she was! The author made it her mission to portray Poppy as a quirky spontaneous girl, but, at least to me, Poppy came across as obnoxious and immature. There was absolutely no growth with this character, making it hard to care about her problems in the slightest.

Alex was boring and irrelevant, to the point where it seemed like nothing he did had any impact on the plot. Alex’s character was formed of so many clichés that his personality became a blur. It was hard to believe that he could be an incredibly thoughtful, smart, and educated person that desperately wanted to get married and start a family. Not to mention he worked out religiously, valued hygiene, looked like a god, enjoyed reading, and was willing to throw away his whole life in Ohio to be with Poppy. Most of my favorite characters have one great quality about them and everything else about them is somewhat flawed. A character’s imperfections and relatability make them compelling, but Alex didn’t possess either of those things. He was so unbelievably “perfect” that it made it difficult to connect with him as a reader.

Alex and Poppy had no chemistry, making it hard to sit through their conversations without wanting to end my suffering and put the book down. I kept rereading their conversations, trying to understand why it evoked such a strong reaction from me, feeling that their banter felt so forced. When Poppy invites Alex on vacation again it’s over text-most of their early conversations are. Since the story is from Poppy’s point of view, the readers know everything that is running through her head as she crafts perfect responses to Alex’s messages. It is almost too realistic to me when Poppy spends a solid five minutes overthinking what to text him back and then gets ghosted for hours. These text messages in the beginning set the scripted tone for the rest of their interactions, draining their relationship of chemistry.

One of my least favorite aspects of this book was the “polar opposites” trope that the author pushed. It’s not my favorite trope, but a lot of books have done the “opposites” thing well (The Love Hypothesis, Perfect Chemistry, etc.). The reason these books were able to pull off the polar trope was because their characters had common goals. If both Alex and Poppy wanted the same things, the book would flow more. Instead it seemed impractical for them to get together because they were just too different. Alex settled down in his hometown as a teacher while Poppy bounced from place to place for her travel articles. Alex wanted a large family full of children while Poppy wanted nothing to do with children. Alex pictured growing old in a big house in the suburbs while Poppy pictured growing old in a commune with a large group of people. Their differences are never-ending. What shocked me was that at the end Alex gave it all up for Poppy still.

The sole reason I continued to read People We Meet on Vacation was to learn more about the incident that caused them to lose touch for two years. The author drags it out until the last few chapters when we finally learn what destroyed this long lasting friendship between Alex and Poppy. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the reveal was unbearably underwhelming. I can’t put into words how frustrated I was with the author. All my patience, through every painful page, and that was what she gave me? Unacceptable.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to trust Goodreads again after this incident. The question of how this book won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance stumps me. 200,000+ people read this book and gave it five stars. There are better books out there, I promise. People We Meet on Vacation set the bar really low, but if you happen to be looking for a romance to read, here are some better books to look for:

Better Contestant for 2021 Goodreads Choice Award: One Last Stop

Better Setting: Anna and the French Kiss

Better Protagonist: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Better Love Interest: The Love Hypothesis

Better Chemistry: The Hating Game

Better Banter: Red, White, and Royal Blue

Better Polar Opposites Trope: Perfect Chemistry

Better Ending: The Fault in Our Stars

If I see People We Meet on Vacation at the library or the bookstore, I will be hiding it behind better books because nobody should have to go through the pain of reading this. If you have a different opinion than I do, I’d love to hear it and talk to you about it, but I stand with a firm NO for this book.