Hugo’s girlfriend dumps him in the first chapter of this book, leaving Hugo feeling completely off-balance. He and his girlfriend (now ex) are both from England, and both getting ready to start university in just a few weeks, although the ex-girlfriend is going to California while Hugo will be staying very close to home- not because he particularly wants to, but because it turns out that Hugo is actually one of a set of sextuplets, and they are small-time famous – enough that they were all gifted scholarships to the local university by a benevolent graduate of said school (all the way back when they were first born). Anyway, Hugo and the ex-girlfriend had been planning a bit cross-country trip in the United States – to take a train from New York to California. As a parting gift, the ex gives Hugo all the trip things and encourages him to go anyway. The problem that no one has really taken into account? Everything is in the ex’s name, and it’s all non-refundable AND non-transferable – which means Hugo needs to find another Margaret Campbell ASAP.
Meanwhile, stateside we meet Mae (legal name Margaret Campbell), who is also getting ready to start school in California, although she has grown up in New York. She’s passionate about film making, and devastated that she hasn’t made it into the film program of her new college. Something about Hugo’s advertisement for a traveling companion strikes a chord, and she responds even though she isn’t sure it’s exactly wise.
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way: this book was nonsense. There is absolutely NO way that this would work in real life, but that’s okay – it was still super fun and adorable, and everyone was so nice that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself while I was reading. Smith seems to somewhat recognize the fact that the whole premise is completely ridiculous. I was cracking up over this exchange between Mae and her best friend:
Priyanka shakes her head. “I literally just watched this show where a girl gets stalked by someone on a train, and – ”
“You watch too much TV.”
“Well, you watch too many movies.”
Mae laughs. “So what happened in the show?”
“It was all a big mix-up,” Priyanka says, picking up a slice of pizza. “The guy turned out to be great and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.”
“No,” she says. “She got murdered. What do you think?”
But, in a way, the impracticality of the story is part of the story’s point. Mae’s grandma is an incurable romantic, always telling stories of her past loves and adventures (most of which Mae isn’t completely sure whether they are true or fiction or some blend of the two). Mae’s Nana was a wise old woman, who at one point completely encapsulated the reason I almost exclusively deal with happy-endings fiction (both reading and movies). Mae is remembering a time she and Nana were watching a movie together –
“Come on,” [Mae would] say when the couple first kissed or when they were brought together by the most unlikely circumstances. “There’s just no way.”
Nana would usually just turn up the volume. But one night … she hit Pause and turned to Mae with a look of great patience.
“It’s not supposed to reflect reality,” she said. “Reality is all well and good. But sometimes you just want to pretend the world is a better place than it actually is. That great and wonderful things can happen. That love triumphs over everything.”
And in a way, I think that’s the story that Smith is writing. The chances of a story like this one happening in real life are almost nil, but that’s okay – it’s fiction, and sometimes fiction is meant to be simply enjoyed.
There were places where the pace seemed a little slow, and there were also times when Mae really got on my nerves, but I still overall enjoyed the story.
One thing I really loved about this book was how literally everyone was nice. Even Hugo’s ex-girlfriend was nice! Hugo’s family was an absolute delight – it was so wonderful to see a happily married couple in his parents, enjoying their marriage and children. There’s a beautiful scene where Hugo’s dad is talking with Hugo about how excited he still is about having a large family because he was so lonely growing up as an only child. Throughout the story, Smith does a really excellent job of balancing Hugo’s struggle with truly loving his family and his siblings, yet still wanting to find his own place in the world as someone other than just one member of the Surrey Six.
It feels like so often parents are presented in these types of stories as being absent, or not really caring, or not understanding at all, or just being plain mean – so it was really nice to have parents who were none of those things. Instead, these are families full of love, empathy, and encouragement. It never felt like either Hugo or Mae were trying to escape something – they were just trying to find what the next thing was that they wanted to go towards.
All in all, a 4* read for me. It’s not really one I want to come back to again and again, but it was a fun and fluffy read when I could let myself let go of the fact that it literally made no sense for any of this to work. It’s obviously an insta-love story, but it’s done well, and I also really genuinely appreciated the fact that even though Mae and Hugo are traveling together and have fallen in love, they don’t start having sex. I think it’s so important to acknowledge that sex is a really big step in a relationship, and it changes everything else that is happening. I felt like Smith handled it really well.
So a fun and lighthearted read with likable characters. Overall recommended if you’re looking for something relaxing but not remotely practical.