It’s almost summertime which means it’s the perfect time for a new book by the current Queen of Romance, Emily Henry. Her previous books include Book Lovers, Beach Read, and People We Meet on Vacation, which have all been optioned for film.
Henry’s books are often perfect summer reads as they feature fun, romance tropes like second chance romance or enemies-to-lovers and always take place in beachy, warm locations.
In Happy Place, every year for the past ten years, Harriet and Wyn’s group of friends have been spending a week together at a cottage in Maine. And this year is no different, except the cottage is for sale and Harriet and Wyn are no longer together. They continue to pretend for the week, not wanting to break their friends’ hearts, but soon they can’t deny the reigniting of sparks between them as their past mistakes come crashing into the present.
To be honest, I haven’t completely been enamored with Henry’s previous books. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun. But I didn’t love them. Until now that is. I read this one with zero expectations and was swept away on a wave of emotions.
The story is told in alternating timelines every few chapters, and I appreciated that this didn’t happen every other chapter, like many other books. You are able to immerse yourself into the storyline before being pulled out and thrust into the past, or vice versa. The chapters that take place in the past give a good insight not only into Harriet and Wyn’s relationship but also how the group of Harriet, Sabrina, and Cleo came to be before evolving to include Wyn, Parth, and Kimmy.
Harriet is a perceptive narrator and grows a lot throughout the course of the tale. She is not above realizing her own mistakes in her relationships and makes efforts to fix them. She’s a brain surgeon who works a lot, but always makes time for her friends’ annual Maine trip, which she insists is her happy place.
Like any second-chance romance, Harriet and Wyn’s interactions in the present are full of misunderstandings, crossed wires, and of course sparks as they navigate all the things they used to do back when they were a couple. In the chapters that take place in the past, it’s sweet to see how their relationship blossomed from friendship to secret lovers before it took them to places and circumstances they could never imagine.
But the real star of the story is friendship. The friendship between Harriet, Sabrina, and Cleo, and then the friendship of the larger group is the driving force of Sabrina’s insistence they all meet one last time before the cottage is sold. It is also the reason Harriet keeps such a huge secret from everyone, for fear of breaking up the friend group. It’s the reason that Sabrina and Cleo have friction, without knowing why.
The book really explores the realization that things do change, despite our deepest wishes that they’d stay the same, and not knowing how to cope with that. Henry paints her characters with a wistful brush as some are adamantly stuck in the past, while others are happy to move on, even if that means growing apart from the group. There are also painful family dynamics that are multi-dimensional as Henry looks at different relationships and how they evolve and change over time.
Despite the title of the book being Happy Place, it is not necessarily a happy book. Unlike Henry’s other books, this one is much more than a romance. It’s a book about second chances, about friends who become family, about growing up and growing apart, and about the rifts that often grow between those who love each other. It’s wistful, sweet, romantic, and may even make you cry.