Review: People We Meet on Vacation


Manwela Katas

People We Meet on Vacation is a romance fiction novel by New York Times best-selling author Emily Henry. The book was published in May 2021 and has attracted much attention since. Emily Henry’s inspiration to write this novel initially comes from the iconic 1980s film “When Harry Met Sally”, as it follows the same friends-to-lovers trope. I enjoyed that it was a basic story at times; as readers, we tend to lean towards reading super dramatic books most of the time, so I enjoyed the idea of entertaining a change, and so might you.

The story follows Poppy and Alex, old college friends who circled the world together each summer. Poppy Wright is an upbeat ray of sunshine who works at a well-known travel magazine as a travel journalist in New York City. In contrast, Alex Nilson is a grumpy high school literature teacher. However, the 12-year-old friends completely cut off contact following an incident between Poppy and Alex. Poppy realizes she hasn’t felt genuinely happy since her last summer trip with Alex, two years ago. Rachel, Poppy’s co-worker and best friend, encourages her to reach out to Alex and regain their connection. Which Poppy did, not knowing what that decision would bring her. The novel dissects the story of how Alex and Poppy met at the University of Chicago during their freshman year and how their friendship developed. The chapters also go through their past summer trips leading up to their present summer trip after their fallout in Palm Springs. This becomes the trip that changes the whole trajectory of Poppy’s life.

I originally read this book close to its release in the summer of 2021 and was left highly unimpressed. I found the book lacking that attention-grabbing effect that sucked you into the book. The book was also split in a weird format where a switch happens between the present and the past in each chapter, making the story slightly challenging to read. I found hardly any chemistry between Poppy and Alex throughout the story, to the point where I hoped they would stay friends. The characters of Poppy and Alex are quite weak. Poppy’s character was meant to be funny, but she often came off as cringy in simple terms. I also felt that Alex had an uninteresting character that lacked depth. To add on, a major dislike of mine in this book is the reference to present-day terms. I say this because most of the time, the things mentioned have already gone out of style or popularity, which makes the book annoying to read. However, I got a chance to reread this novel for a second time, and I would say my opinion about it is slightly different. I think this book is not meant to be super dramatic; it’s simply something relaxing to read by the beach, which may be why I felt it lacked a plot at times. And the author of the Bibliofile seems to agree: “While upbeat and cute, this story is perhaps less exciting than some romance novels. The dramatic element in the story is very toned down. If you like really torrid romances and star-crossed lovers, you might find this book a bit bland. Instead, this book is more about two people who care about each other and exploring the ins and outs of their relationship.”

Overall, the novel is well-rated throughout the book community, with a 3.96 rating out of 5 stars according to Goodreads. The book has sold over 1 million copies since its release and was listed as one of the best books of 2021. In addition, the novel received the Goodreads Choice Award for Romance in 2021. However, despite the appraisal this novel has received, there have been many dislikes for it. A reader mentions in a Goodreads review, “The constant flashbacks were giving me confusion, and I love books that include the past and present timelines.” They usually add depth and clarity to the story. But these flashbacks seemed to be about everything but them. There was too much vacationing and not enough Poppy and Alex moments. Bar the cute little dialogues and banter we would get in between Where was the emotion? The angst that is supposed to come along with the fact that you are not seeing your friend as a friend any longer? Was that present? Because I must’ve missed the build-up.”

In all transparency, People We Meet on Vacation would not be the first recommendation I give someone. However, I do think the book is a simplistic read that you might pick up before taking a road trip or even relaxing on the beach. Consider reading this book; you never know, it could end up being a favorite of yours.