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Last year, I read Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare after seeing it everywhere online. In my review, I noted (sticky note love story pun fully intended) that the premise was just so wacky, it works. I truly adored the book and O’Leary’s writing style. Which is why I was sad to see that her then-most-recent book had one of my least favorite tropes at its core.
The Road Trip, if you don’t know, is a second chance romance with a road trip/forced proximity element. I love a road trip and some forced proximity, but I’ve seldom met a second chance romance that didn’t let me down. So I’d been avoiding the book for some time, not wanting to be disappointed by an author I’ve come to love.
And then I realized I had a spare Audible credit and was in the mood for fiction on audio. This is rare — mostly, I listen to nonfiction audiobooks. So, I figured I may as well finish the O’Leary catalog before her next book comes out in April.
With much skepticism and steeling myself for disappointment, I began The Road Trip. And what a journey it was.
What I Liked
O’Leary isn’t afraid to take a ridiculous premise and somehow make it work. The setup that brings Addie and Dylan back into one another’s lives is one such setup, just coincidental enough to work. They’ve got a reason to be driving in the same direction, yet it’s still surprising they manage to crash into one another and damage one vehicle just badly enough that they’re stuck driving the rest of the way in one car.
And the road trip plot twist? Even if I questioned whether we needed it, it was very unexpected and entertaining.
The story is told in alternating perspectives and also switches between present and past. This could potentially be confusing, but O’Leary manages it well enough. I liked being able to see the original relationship unfold alongside the present day tension of being trapped in car with someone you don’t want to be trapped in a car with (yes, I’m referencing this song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
Flipping back to the past helps us understand why Addie and Dylan fell in love, how they broke up, and see the ways in which they’ve changed. This is an element that, in my opinion, is often lacking in second chance romances and is why I don’t like them. I need to understand a) why I should forgive the offending party and b) why this relationship is set up to succeed the second time around.
We watch Addie and Dylan fall in love and fall apart as we also see the ways in which their present day interactions form a contrast to their past. This allowed me to believe in their second chance.
I also like that the reason for their breakup is muddier and more complicated, not putting the full blame on either party.
What I Didn’t Like
Honestly there’s not much here I didn’t like, unless you count Marcus, and I’m fairly sure we aren’t supposed to like him, so I’m fine with it.
I did find myself questioning certain elements of the story a bit, wondering whether they might not sit well with some readers. I do this sometimes — parse whether I’m missing something problematic because it doesn’t bother me personally.
I won’t get too much into specifics here so as to avoid spoilers, but the inciting incident for the breakup is a bit… complicated and I’m not sure about how it was handled because I haven’t personally been in that situation. I want to say it was done well, but there was a lot of grey area that might bother some readers?
Similarly, I really liked one of the characters and was a bit disappointed with a certain big reveal around that character. I think I really wanted them to just be weird and have that not mean anything bigger? I don’t know, I’m still thinking about that one.
Overall, I liked The Road Trip much more than I expected to. O’Leary’s romances tackle big, complicated, messy situations. They’re not light and fluffy all the way through, but grapple with bigger questions and problems in life while still promising a happy ending by the finish. Some people don’t like this aspect of her books because they come to romance for pure escape.
As for me, I like my love stories a litte complicated and grounded in real life issues. I want a little meat in the story while still knowing it will all end up okay. For me, that conflict feels much more interesting than the manifactured complicates some romance novels throw in at the 3/4 mark.
I recommend The Road Trip to fans of O’Leary’s other books and to readers who enjoy second chance romances (or are willing to be surprised by them, like me).