Book: “Happy Place” by Emily Henry
Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.
They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.
Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.
Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?
Review: Like many authors I’ve grown to love, I was first introduced to Emily Henry when we read “Beach Read” for bookclub a year or so ago. It was part of a romance theme we were doing at the time and was a great motivator to read a book and author I probably would never have picked up on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but I tend to stick pretty strictly the historical romance lane ala “Bridgerton” and the like. What can I say, Jane Austen really ruined me for other genres of romance. In particular, I’m not often a reader of contemporary stories in any genre, so contemporary romance was waaaaay down there. But boy, yet again am I thankful for bookclub because here I am, the biggest Emily Henry fan you’ll find!
Harriet’s happy place has long been established as not only a location (her friend’s rich dad’s New England beach home) but as the group of friends who have travelled alongside her through the past decade of her life. And part of that group has always been her longtime boyfriend, Wyn. But now, broken up for the past six months, Harriet is unsure whether she can find that happy place again. How can this close group of friends survive the sundering of one of its longest-running romances? Things are made more challenging when Harriet realizes that this will be the last year before their beloved gathering place is sold. Not wanting to ruining what may be the last time they’re all together for a long while, Harriet and Wyn decided to not break the news of their break up until after the trip is over. But keeping up this ruse may prove more difficult than either has expected.
There are a lot of things to love about Henry’s approach to contemporary romance. But I think one of the things I appreciate most is how deftly she manages to use very common, some might say worn to death, romance tropes and breathes new life into them. Here she tackles two tropes in one, fake dating and a second chance love story. In a lot of ways, I think this combination works better than either one does on their own, especially fake dating. I’ve always been a bit of a hard sell on fake dating. The scenarios used to make it a necessary thing always seem very contrived and unbelievable. And then the success of two people, often near strangers, successfully tricking people into believing they are a couple always seemed incredibly unlikely. Not only do these strangers need to fake their way through the awkwardness of physical interactions, but they have to somehow orchestrate the easy comradery and chemistry of a true couple. But, like I say, Henry wisely sidesteps this entire issue by combining it with a second chance love story.
Harriet and Wyn were not only a couple before, they were in a long-term, on the verge of marriage, serious relationship. Add in some unresolved feelings, and it’s easy to see how they could simply flip a switch into faking they’re still together. On top of that, the use of a very close friends group makes a compelling reason for why they would fake their relationship. Not only would a break up upend the boat of a small group of mutual friends, but a few of the friends have expressed reliance on Harriet and Wyn’s solid relationship as proof that long-term love is possible! It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that I think nicely lays the entire table for both of these romance tropes.
Another thing Henry does so well is ground her stories in other struggles and growth for her characters. As the story unfolds, we begin to see what went wrong in Harriet and Wyn’s seemingly perfect relationship. Through a series of flashbacks, we begin to learn that neither has ever been perfectly honest with the other about what they want from life. What’s worse, neither has been honest with themselves. Both are incredibly likable but flawed individuals, and we see how each has been swatting away the necessary work that would have lead them to healthier lives and a healthier relationship. Harriet’s struggles as a people pleaser and Wyn’s inability to place value in himself as he is were all incredibly powerful and well depicted.
And, of course, the romance is lovely. Henry also tends to write romances that read a bit bitter sweet. They end well, because that’s almost required of the genre. But given the way this book is structured, with the flashbacks slowly working their way towards the present, it’s difficult to watch Wyn and Harriet spiral towards the inevitable break-up. Between their own struggles and the challenges we see from some of the other members of this friends group, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a happy book. And yet, it also wasn’t sad. It simply felt very real and honest about the way even the closest relationships, romances and friendships, can be built on unhealthy habits and interactions. The ending was particularly cathartic after all of the build-up. I was also very happy with a few particular turns of events at the end where I think Henry improved on some of her previous character work in conclusions of other books I’ve read by her where I’ve been more frustrated. If you’re a fan of contemporary romance or of Emily Henry, this is definitely a must read!
Rating 9: Heartfelt and poignant, this story tackles not only the lies we tell others but, more importantly, the lies we tell ourselves.
Reader’s Advisory: “Happy Place” is on these Goodreads lists: That One Really Popular Modern Romance Novel Cover Style and 2023 Contemporary Romance Releases.