What makes a book “supremely enjoyable” to read, as opposed to “spellbinding,” “rich,” or “charming?” For me, it has to be a mix of good writing, clever lines, fun characters, strong relationship building, and most importantly, heart. Jenna Evans Welch’s latest book Love and Luck is such a supremely enjoyable read because it has all of those things. To wit:
It takes a very steady writer’s hand to dole out details of a relationship, world, or situation fast enough to keep the interest of readers with short attention spans but not so fast that a story becomes predictable one-third of the way in. At the core of Love and Luck is the relationship between the main character, Addie, and her brother Ian, right after she goes through a really rough break-up with her boyfriend, and during a family trip to the Emerald Isle. They’re there for her aunt’s destination wedding, but Ian keeps bringing up the break-up, which gets him into all kinds of trouble with Addie. Then, she’s more-or-less forced into a whirlwind road trip with him and his Irish buddy Rowan. Addie finds a guidebook entitled “Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle” at their hotel, and uses that as her survival mechanism, but finds that she doesn’t need to rely on it so much as she needs to learn how to trust Ian, own her mistakes, and rely on her friends and family. Welch peels back the layers of Addie and Ian’s relationship bit-by-bit, through revelations of details about her relationship with Cubby, then wraps it back up again using the chaotic stitchwork of their shared roadtrip experience and previous history. It’s endearing and heart-warming, that’s what it is.
(in a conversation with Ian and Addie’s older brother, Walt, and their mother):
Walt leaned forward, shaking himself free of me also. “Mom, please stop swearing. You’re awful at it.”
“You can’t be awful at swearing,” she said shakily.
“You have single-handedly disproven that theory,” Walt argued. “There’s a science to it; some words go together. You can’t just throw them all out at once.”
“I’m going to throw you all out at once,” Mom said.”
(as Addie’s getting into Rowan’s tiny car and beginning this forced road trip):
I rushed over, eager to keep up the goodwill, but when I looked inside [the car], the glow that Ian’s smile had created instantly faded away. He had somehow managed to stack Rowan’s items into a teetering pile that almost touched the ceiling. The only actual space was behind Ian’s seat, and it was just the right size for three malnourished squirrels and a hedgehog. If they all sucked in.
Addie is a high-schooler in the swamp of murky self-identity, yet her narrative isn’t angsty or depressing. In fact, it’s anything but. Through her interactions with Rowan, who becomes a co-commiserator in the Land of Heartbreak, she is revealed (to herself and others) as a kind, impulsive, dedicated, angry, helpful Person. Through her interactions with her brother Ian, which could have shown her to be nothing but selfish and mean-spirited, she is shown to crave harmony. In the end, her biggest problem is her ability to own her past mistakes, which is a very relatable character flaw. Somewhat whimsically, she follows the advise of the writer of “Ireland for the Heartbroken,” making paper airplanes out of losses and standing in the waters of Inch Beach until her legs are numb. It’s a joy to follow her journey.
Strong Relationship Building
All books, when it comes right down to it, are about relationships (all good books anyway), no matter the genre. To take a relationship–a sibling relationship no less–from a knock-down fist fight to a hug, realistically, is no small feat, but as I said before, it’s done in this book.
“What is heart?” you say. It’s that indefinable quality of (good writing + fun characters + strong relationship building) + emotion. The emotion has to be deep and woven throughout, not dramatically expressed in fits and spurts like a bas relief sculpture, just for show. It’s interesting to me that at the launch for this book, which I attended at Kings’ English in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jenna stated that this book came out of one of the toughest years of her life. It doesn’t feel like it; it’s too light-hearted for that. Or rather, maybe because of that, between the clever quips and mad dashes, the heart of this book reaches a very universal core: who we are as human beings and whether we’re sufficient by ourselves or need others.
Who Would Like Love & Luck?
If you liked Love and Gelato, it’s loosely-related predecessor which I reviewed here, you’ll like this book. If you’re going to the beach and want a light read, you’ll like this book, although there’s not much romance per se. If you want a book for your teenage girl to read, one that has no sex and very little language, you’ll like this book.