The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The VacationersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, here’s something fun to do, before you read this review.
Take a look at the cover of The Vacationers, check out the number of pages, and read the blurb about it on Goodreads. Then, look up The Lemon Grove, by Helen Walsh, and do the same thing. Notice anything strange?
Both novels, published in 2014, tell the story of a family: mother, father, teenaged daughter, etc….spending a vacation in Mallorca. Family secrets inevitably ruffle the surface the beautiful waters in this island setting, and the results change the characters forever.
When I first discovered these two novels, I was impressed with the surface similarities, so much so that I double-checked to make sure that they weren’t in fact the same novel with different titles.
In fact, The Vacationers and The Lemon Grove are a fascinating example of how two books which sound almost identical can be completely different.
In fact, The Lemon Grove is moody, bleak, and lonely, and left me feeling “icky,” whereas, The Vacationers is perceptive and funny, and left me feeling hopeful.
In The Lemon Grove, Mallorca felt like a place of strange and dangerous beauty. In The Vacationers, Mallorca was a place of stunning sunsets and starry nights, but also a place where people got sunburned and sang in the shower.
The Vacationers is one of the most readable novels I’ve encountered this year. It manages to be happy without being cheesy, and hopeful without being saccharine. Emma Straub’s characters are all either relatable, or easy to recognize as someone you’ve interacted with in real life. Straub has created cynical characters with souls. Her writing is pitch perfect, as it takes a gentle, but realistic, look, at human imperfections and struggles. The Vacationers is just a good book. It seamlessly bridges the gap between literary novel and “chic-lit.” I hope it reaches the wide audience that it deserves.

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