“Happy Place” by Emily Henry

Colourful buildings around a swimming pool. Warm air, with the occasional cool breeze. Blue skies with tiny tufts of cloud. My favourite person in the world, in chinos and a white shirt, smiling at me. And no need to plan or prepare my meals because they’re provided by a buffet. That’s my happy place.

A Kindle e-reader with the book "Happy Place" by Emily Henry sits on a grey blanket. Next to it, a tattooed arm holds a plastic coffee cup.

But this isn’t about me. Well, it is, but it’s also about the new release from contemporary romance darling Emily Henry, “Happy Place.”

Following in the footsteps of “Book Lovers” and “Beach Read.” And my personal fave, which doesn’t have a two-word title: “People We Meet On Vacation.” Well, that’s one of its titles – it has two and I don’t know which one is which.

I was introduced to Emily Henry’s books last year so this was the first one I had to wait for. Unfortunately, it’s also my least favourite of the bunch. Maybe because I’m not really into second-chance tropes. Maybe because it had a few themes that hit too close to home. Let’s explore these things together!

Just quickly, what this book is about:

Three former college roomies and their partners have become this friend group. Despite being scattered around the country, they meet each summer in Maine. But this summer is the last summer because the holiday home of one of the roomies is being sold. The protagonist, Harriet, arrives to find that her ex-fiancé has been invited along – because they didn’t tell anyone they’d broken up. They decide to just fake it for the week so there’s no drama. But obviously, there is lots of drama.

None of these friends know how to communicate with each other, there are lots of misunderstandings. I’m not against that, I know it’s necessary for these kinds of novels. It would be pretty dull if chapter one was just everyone getting everything out into the open and then we spend the week eating lobster.

The second chance trope isn’t for me

I’m not really a second-chance kind of gal when it comes to my contemporary romance. In fact, most often I will skip these sorts of books, but I was drawn in by the Emily Henry of it all. And I’m not saying it’s a bad book – it’s good, it does what it came here to do.

I can handle second chances if the first chance was relatively inconsequential. Like, say the protagonist and the love interest meet, maybe almost date (is there any weirder relationship to have than “we almost dated”?), and then something happens that sets them on different paths until they reconnect. I’m all for that.

I’m less on board with long-term relationships that have ended. Maybe I fall into the camp of people who believe things end for a reason. In the case of Harriet and Wyn, they’d been together for eight years. That’s plenty of time to figure out your communication issues!

Let’s unpack the things that hit closer to home

Outside of the romance bit, there are, of course, themes about growing up and growing apart that most people can probably relate to, but is something I’m especially feeling as I hit the final strides before my big 10 years in the UK anniversary in June. With the passage of time and the pandemic that has kept me from home since 2019, I find myself examining my own relationships with people I don’t see daily and questioning how much has changed:

  • Would we still slot together if we were in the same room, or are things too different now?
  • Does the bond of being friends with someone for many years still exist if many of those years have been spent apart?
  • If that friendship no longer seems viable, should I even care?
  • Should I feel guilty for not trying harder to stay connected, when the other person also hasn’t put in the effort?

“Happy Place” asks these questions too, although they seem to be resolved by the concept of a different kind of friendship. A different understanding of boundaries as adults. I thought this is what I had, but now I’m less sure.

Beyond interpersonal relationships, we have Harriet’s struggle with becoming a surgeon. Obviously, I am not a brain surgeon, but I related to how her career forms such a large chunk of her identity. I feel quite wrapped up in my own professional identity like my Career card from the Game of Life is always on show. Like Harriet, I see success in my career as a kind of measurable metric for the success of my life in general. And while that can be a helpful tool, it also means that a bad day at work can be detrimental to my sense of self as a whole.

I also struggle with the perception people have of the kind of work that I do. At the end of the day, while it’s not an unimportant job, it’s not brain surgery. Not only is it not brain surgery, but it’s not something essential like ensuring people can buy food or keeping our environment clean and sanitary or helping people travel from A to B. But it’s often viewed as being more important than those things, more worthy of higher salaries, and of comfortable working conditions.

I don’t know how to eloquently connect this to the theme within the novel that careers are not indicators of intelligence. But just saying that many of my sessions with my counsellor have touched upon the fact that while I admit I’ve worked hard and worked my way up through my industry, I feel like a considerable amount of it comes down to luck – I was lucky that I picked something up when I was young that happened to become its own huge industry. My current job didn’t even exist when I entered the working world, it was formed by people like me who worked in the same space.

Finally, the novel plays with the idea of career success vs. what makes us happy as an individual. Is it worth clinging to a career because of the way others perceive it? Are our careers really so ingrained in our identity, or can we break away from it? Now, I’m not about to quit my day job, but I’ve recently made changes in my life to allow me to enjoy my free time more rather than making Being a Designer my whole personality. So I could relate to Harriet’s desire to be able to separate herself from work and truly escape and take a break from it all.

After all, it was only a few months ago when I would stress myself out to the breaking point because I felt I should be working on building my own empire, even though I’d just spent 37.5 hours working on someone else’s.

God, is this even a book review?

As my first book review on this blog, I knew there was potential to set the tone. Honestly, if you want a play-by-play of the plot, I’m sure you’ll find that at Goodreads (although I’m a Storygraph gal myself). I hope to bring a bit more of myself into the reviews that I write here. I want to tell you how a story found me, how it affected me, and what I’m taking away from it.

In this case, I didn’t walk away with fluttery feelings of romance.

I mean, there were some cute bits, and I want to reiterate that overall the novel was good. And maybe had it found me in my happy place, I wouldn’t have fixated as much on the moody parts! But it found me in my “I just turned 35 and I’m hyper analysing my life” place.

Better luck with next year’s Emily Henry read, I guess!