EPIC JOINT REVIEW: The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary, Part II
REVIEW PART II
Note to readers: While spoilers are hidden in this review, there are big ones under the cuts so click on the view option at your own risk. -Janine
Jennie: Part I of the review can be found here.
Back to the discussion! There was also such a lack of balance in terms of each character’s issues. I think I’m more forgiving of that sort of thing in a historical romance – I can view one character “saving” the other with more detachment there. In contemporary romances I tend to have more of a “girl, run” attitude, because it feels more real; you can bet that in real life I would not think that Addie should get involved with Dylan again.
Janine: “Girl, run” sums up this book for me. And I don’t think that their relationship patterns would work even in a historical, at least not if Dylan was as passive and spineless as he is here.
Jennie: Maybe not. I know I’ve read and liked (back in the day, to be fair – not recently) historical romances where the hero behaved much worse than Dylan did.
That said, I guess what it comes down to is that I started to doubt whether I really wanted a HEA for these two. Which isn’t great, in a romance.
Janine: Given the starring role Marcus plays in the story, I’m not sure if this is meant to be a romance or women’s fiction. Either way, though, the book is about Addie and Dylan’s relationship and we are supposed to wholeheartedly root for their romance to work out. This what the book is primarily about. The fact that neither of us did root for that at the end of the book is a huge fail.
Jennie: You’re not wrong. I would say my feeling at the end was more like, well, they still have a lot of work to do. I just never blamed Dylan as much for his failings – maybe because he (and Addie) seemed so young to me. Being young isn’t an excuse for being horrible, but I judge young characters a lot less harshly because I feel like they still have time to get their shit together.
Janine: You’re right that many of us make huge mistakes as young people. But I was in a similar dynamic when I was nineteen and the others not much older, and here are my thoughts from personal experience.
Jennie: I definitely get how personal experience can play into how you feel about unhealthy relationship dynamics. In the case of Dylan and Addie, I can’t really relate on a personal experience level, and I can’t relate because that – that youth and all that went with it, including bad decisions and messed up thinking – was a whole other era of my life. It allows me to be a lot more detached and thus, I think, forgiving of things that you’re right, are not necessarily forgivable. (Or at least things that should make the possibility of reconciliation a non-starter.)
There was a relatively short timeline between the two meeting and the present day – about four years, almost half of which they’ve been split up for. I don’t generally like reunited lovers stories with long separations (say, 10+ years) because all that wasted time often feels bittersweet to me. But in The Road Trip, they are both still so young at the end of the story, and Dylan particularly is still not, seemingly, where he really needs to be in order to be in a healthy relationship.
Janine: Yes. Another timeline problem is that the “Then” part of the storyline stretches out for two years while the “Now” sections add up to two days. It’s impossible to give two days of improved behavior the same weight as two years of fucking up.
Jennie: Another good point.
There was an entirely unsurprising twist late in the book that I didn’t care for.
Janine: We haven’t talked about Deb, Rodney, Cherry, and Grace at all. What did you think of them? Deb might have been my favorite character in the book. Such a straight shooter and so funny. She suffers no fools and makes her choices without caring what anyone else thinks. Her self-sufficiency and confidence make her a foil (deliberate contrast) to Addie and Dylan and to some extent even to Marcus (hers is a healthier way of taking charge of situations and wielding force of personality) but I never felt that she was only that.
Jennie: I loved Deb but felt slightly uncomfortable about the only biracial character being depicted as sexually free and unconcerned with what others think. I think it was because she was such a contrast to Addie, and since they were raised together it pointed towards nature rather than nurture. I’m probably being overly sensitive about that, though.
Janine: No, I agree. It was discomfiting to me because she is the only character of color of any significance and because of the slut-shaming stereotypes that women and girls of color are tagged with.
Rodney—I’m not sure what to say about him. He is a lackluster character but he is intended to be. He’s also the punchline for a lot of the jokes. I won’t spoil the late developments but I started out feeling vaguely sorry for him. He was a bit pitiful.
Jennie: I felt sort of protective of Rodney early on – his awkwardness and the way the others treated him were simultaneously funny and a bit disturbing to me. The later developments were…not a great choice by the author, I felt.
For two-thirds of the book Cherry wasn’t given a personality so I spent a long while thinking she was a convenient device. I was even confused about who she was and how Addie, Dylan, and Marcus knew her. It’s a shame because once I got to know her, I really liked her.
Jennie: I liked Grace and Cherry a lot but felt that both had a whiff of “rich manic pixie dreamgirl” – not that they were identical but they both felt a little unreal (even though I liked them, if that makes sense).
Janine: I adored Grace. She is a minor character, glamorous, ironic, slightly jaded, and O’Leary took some unexpected and gorgeous turns with her. I would read an entire book about her, or someone like her, but not one based on her hinted at her future.
Jennie: There really was (believe it or not!) a lot that I liked about The Road Trip
I liked the way that Addie and Dylan’s class differences were handled.
Janine: The trope of the wealthy/aristocratic man who captures the less well-off heroine, which runs through a kazillion books, was, I thought, part of the subtext for why Dylan might be a find for Addie. I wanted to see qualities that made him genuinely worthwhile instead. By this I also mean more than cute looks and quotes of Edmund Spenser. And bad poetry. Those are all trappings, and I wanted the man himself to have character and integrity so I could view him as worthwhile for her.
Jennie: Honestly, Dylan’s fondness for The Fairie Queene was one of his least attractive qualities, IMO. I HATE The Fairie Queene.
That said, I felt that Dylan and Addie had chemistry as a couple and could believe they were in love.
Janine: They did, especially when they first met. The dynamic that subsequently developed tainted it for me.
Jennie: Again, I really do love O’Leary’s writing and humor, as when Dylan muses:
I have a feeling that if this journey had been any longer, it would have become progressively more Lord of the Flies, and Marcus probably would have eaten somebody.
So my grade is going to be an unsatisfying mishmash: heart A-, head C-; averaging out to a B-.
Janine: I completely agree on the turns of phrase and the humor. They’re two of O’Leary’s strong suits without a doubt.
But her trajectory as an author has not been great, I feel. She seems to be losing mastery over her considerable skills. I gave The Flatshare an A-, The Switch a C, and frankly, I feel I am being generous in giving The Road Trip a D.