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Book Review: People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation Book Cover. It is Bright Orange with Green Palm Leaves and Two People Lounging on Separate Poolside Chairs

On our second visit to the oldest bookstore in the world, Bertrand’s, located in Lisbon’s Chiado neighborhood, I picked up and purchased the book I resisted on our first visit – People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. For the second time, its bright orange cover batted its green palm leaves at me like I batted my eyelashes at Chris when we first met. On this visit, I lifted it from the shelf, flirted with its first pages, and decided to take it home with me. 

People We Meet on Vacation Book Interior with Bertrand Stamp
At the oldest bookstore in the world, you can get the books you buy stamped. "We hereby certify this books was bought at the oldest operating bookshop in the world. Livraria Bertrand do Chiado Lisboa, Portugal."

The When Harry Met Sally Connection

People We Meet on Vacation is an homage toWhen Harry Met Sallyby the O.G. of Romantic Comedies, Nora Ephron. That’s not the only hint of Henry’s admiration for Ephron. In the book, her protagonist Poppy and her love interest Alex, “…go to Cafe Lalo… determined to sit just where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did in “You’ve Got Mail – another major Ephron hit, one that Ephron directed and co-wrote with her sister Delia. 

If, like me, you happen to know that Cafe Lalo is closed (I wanted to go to it when Chris and I created our video, How We Spent a Weekend in NYC Like a Rom-Com Screenwriter!!! ), there are a couple of things you should know that I didn’t when I read the scene. Henry’s book takes place before the pandemic, a time when the famous café was open. Cafe Lalo’s most recent Instagram post, as I write this, was on February 14th, 2020 – how appropriate for a cafe made famous by a romantic comedy.

Poppy and Alex are strangers, with one awkward prior encounter, who drive from the University of Chicago, where their Freshman semester just ended, to their neighboring small towns, East Linfield and West Linfield, Ohio. After the drive home, over summer break, the two become fast friends, then best friends. Poppy’s roommate set the situation up, not her best friend and not Alex’s girlfriend. If you know, you know (iykyk). If you don’t know, it’s time to watch “When Harry Met Sally.” 

In Ephron’s film, Harry and Sally start as strangers driving from the University of Chicago, where they have just graduated, to NYC, a city they each plan to begin their post-college lives. They do not become fast friends. Or, best friends, at least not at first. It takes them about a decade. Maybe more. 

Can Men and Women be friends? That’s the question both stories ask. They answer it in mostly different ways. It’s no. And yes. And no, not really. I don’t think any of us has a friend whose relationship status has been It’s Complicated for as long as the answer to this question has been.

For those who have seen the movie:Poppy is careless like Harry, but Alex has a death fixation like Harry. Alex is proper like Sally, but Poppy has a vulnerable emotional range that matches Sally’s.   

Unlike Harry and Sally, Poppy and Alex’s friendship blossoms before they begin dating others. Can they stay friends and keep their annual summer vacation tradition once they’re in committed relationships without it getting weird? What’s more important: what they want out of life or who they want to be with? If they let themselves fall in love with one another, will it ruin everything they have as friends? 

The two start sorting out the answer to this question in earnest during a too-hot, off-season stay in a Palm Springs Airbnb gone wrong. They’ve had better and worse summer vacations, and as the reader, you get to tag along on them all. Henry’s descriptions of the various locales feel spot on, at least all of the ones I’ve been to do.

For the Travel Book Lovers

Since this is (mostly) a travel blog and I chose to read and review People We Meet on Vacation because of its promise to include some travel, here are some of the great locations Alex and Poppy take their summer vacations to:

My favorite quote from People We Meet on Vacation:

“Vacations always end. It’s the very fact that it’s finite that makes traveling special. You could move to any one of those destinations you loved in small doses, and it wouldn’t be the spellbinding, life-altering seven days you spent there as a guest, letting a place into your heart fully, letting it change you.” 

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry has written several books, including her just-released-this-May novel, Happy Place. Her Beach Read, Happy Place, and Book Lovers are now on my ever-growing books-to-read list. Three are being made into movies that I’m looking forward to watching: People We Meet on Vacation, Beach Read, and Book Lovers. I feel so late to the new rom-com party. It’s been a minute since the Bridget Jones books of my singleton days. 

Do you have a favorite travel book, or summer read? Please let us know! Melissa might add it to her reading list and review it on our site. 

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