The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
»Books are life, they are brain food, they bring joy, and relief, and connection.«
(From the ackowledgements)
Finally, a good one again! This novel was much more fun than I had expected and it had two brilliant protagonists.
Olive and Ethan hate each other – until they don’t. (Or maybe they never hated each other but who wants to be a spoil-sport?). On the tropical island of Maui they try hard not to fall for each other but fail miserably. The good thing is: They do so by actually communicating (mostly) intelligently and honestly with each other. They start to trust each other. They support and encourage each other. They grow with each other.
Before that happens, though, I really enjoyed their banter:
»“I am totally out of my depth here.”
“That’s been my general impression so far. Be more specific.”«
(Is that great art? No, but it’s highly entertaining.)
Trust needs a deeper level, though, than just amusing, silly banter. Don’t get me wrong: The “tropical island”, “holiday”, “summer beach read” vibes are strong in this one and that’s wonderful and hilarious.
That Christina Lauren is able to deliver on more serious aspects, surprised and delighted me:
»Soon, Ethan and I are swimming completely in sync, our feet kicking lazily behind us. He points to things he sees; I do the same. There are no words, no verbal jabs. There is no desire to smack him or poke his eyes out—there is only the confusing truth that holding his hand down here isn’t just tolerable, it’s nice.«
There’s an amazing and refreshing balance between the humour and the emotion in the book. There were moments of laughter and fun, but also moments of vulnerability and honesty. The tropical island setting was also a nice backdrop for Olive and Ethan romance, as it gave them a chance to relax and explore.
It’s nice and, yes, romantic; wholesome even. Maybe I’ve become soft but I like that and I like it when our heroine simply decides to go for honesty “under duress”…
»Honesty has always seemed to work best for us: “I’m freaking out a little that you suggested we spend the day together, just us, and it doesn’t make me want to rappel down the balcony.”«
There are still a few scenes during which I would have liked to grab them and force them to talk straight but mostly they simply do just that and it’s so satisfying! I think they both showed a lot of maturity and respect for each other, which made me root for them even more.
When at home, Olive and Ethan even get their priorities right:
»“Garlic chicken first, sex second.”«
(Speaking of that second “course”: It could have been a bit more spicy and detailed. The sex scenes were a bit too vague and fade-to-black for my taste. I would have liked to see more of their passion and intimacy, especially after all the build-up and tension. It’s a funny, clever, warm, nice novel with a brilliant Olive and Ethan so I’d argue we deserve better!)
As mentioned, Olive and Ethan are wisely using their time to build trust… Until they don’t; in the third-act breakup – but even that feels plausible: Thomas believes his brother and not his partner. Olive is understandably extremely annoyed and disappointed by that and pretty much walks out on Ethan whereas he formally ends their relationship. And, at the time, it made a whole lot of sense.
»I know now that it’s a waste of my time looking for reasons, or fate, or luck. But I’ve definitely come to embrace choices in the past month or so, and I’m going to have to figure out which one I’ll make where Ethan is concerned—do I forgive him, or do I walk away?«
It even helps Olive along because she fully recognises her feelings for Ethan – and for herself:
»I feel more myself with him than without, and that happened so fast, it’s dizzying.«
Even while pining for Ethan, Olive remains strong and self-reliant:
»“I don’t have to do anything where Ethan Thomas is concerned.”«
And, ultimately, Olive’s final conflict – trust him again or leave him for good? – also plays out plausibly: She knows very well her trust might be misplaced and that it might be a good idea to leave him – but she doesn’t want to leave and trusts herself (and partly him). She prioritises love while seeing its risks and it is entirely her clear-headed decision. That is courageous and, in my book, admirable.
I liked how Olive didn’t let Ethan or anyone else define her or make decisions for her. She had her own goals and dreams, and she pursued them with determination and confidence. She also had a lot of self-awareness and self-respect, and she didn’t settle for less than she deserved. I applaud that.
For this much mutual honesty and fun, courage and thoughtfulness; for this fresh breeze of self-reliance and respect – how could I award anything less than five out of five stars?
»“Ethan,” I whisper, and dart my eyes around, feeling the pressure of everyone’s attention on us, still. This moment is starting to feel like a reconciliation, and as much as my heart and lungs and lady parts are on board for that, I don’t want to roll over the deeper issue here, which is that what he did by ignoring my truth wasn’t okay. “You really hurt me. We had this rare, awesome honesty, and so when you thought I was lying, it was really hard.”«
Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam
View all my reviews
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren