When you are a teenager, everything feels magnified. That is especially true when your parents make a decision in their own self-interest that impacts your life in ways you don't like. Say, for example, if your father were to go to Oxford for a sabbatical, meet another woman, and not come back home to Connecticut. That's the position that Hadley's found herself in. Now she has to travel across the Atlantic to serve as a bridesmaid in her father's wedding to a woman she's never met. Needless to say, she's not very happy about this.
Hadley misses her flight by just a few minutes, but manages to get a seat on the next plane, where she meets Oliver, a dashing British Yale freshman traveling home for a family function. The two hit it off, discussing life, love, and everything in between during their ten hours together before parting ways at customs.
The story is a little bit predictable, as Hadley can't get Oliver out of her mind while simultaneously struggling with what feels like betrayal from her father. Then again, most forms of entertainment targeting teens is fairly predictable. We all know that Ferris isn't going to get busted and Sam ends up with Jake. These are instances where you just have to enjoy the ride.
A lot of the mixed-to-negative reviews I've read comment on the fact that Hadley's not a very likable character, but I vehemently disagree. She's sometimes a little bit of a petulant teenager when dealing with her father -- she intends to return a book he gave her as a gift, pointedly unread -- but Smith softens her attitude with reflections on why Hadley feels the need to lash out. She's not trying to be cruel or manipulative, she's trying to sort out the feelings of hurt that she's experiencing and how that connects to what she's always expected from her family structure. It's a scenario that I can relate to, as "tenuous" is probably the best word I can think of for my relationship with my own father while he was dating during my teenage years. I felt that Hadley's insights often rang true.
Seeing him for the first time after he left:
"When she made her way down to baggage claim to find him waiting for her he looked completely different, with a reddish beard that didn't match his dark hair and a smile so big she could see the caps on his teeth. It had only been six months, but in that time he'd become a near stranger, and it wasn't until he stooped to hug her that he came back again, smelling like cigarette smoke ad aftershave, his voice gravelly as he told her how much he'd missed her. And for some reason that was even worse. In the end, it's not the changes that will break your heart; it's that tug of familiarity."
When shown pictures of her father's life in London, without her:
"She doesn't want to see photos of them at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or making funny faces on a train...She doesn't want to be forced to consider evidence of Dad's birthday party at a pub in Oxford; she doesn't need a reminder that she wasn't there...She doesn't need pictures to know that she's not part of his life anymore."
That's a hard thing for a seventeen-year-old girl to feel. It's a hard thing for anyone to feel, really.
Also, the banter between Oliver and Hadley is quite charming and very sweet. Contrary to the title, the characters keep in mind that they are teenagers and are not experiencing the great loves of their life here. It's a mutual crush and they connect quite naturally, but it's not as wildly over-the-top, idealistically romantic as I was expecting. Even when Hadley's running around London on her own, the book manages to stay [relatively] grounded in reality. Though I wish her father and new stepmother had been a little more fully fleshed out, I found this book rather touching and enjoyable.