by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
The Getaway List is Emma Lord’s fifth YA book—I’ve read all five, and I love every single one. Lord has a knack for creating characters who are flawed and real, dealing with difficult transitions in incredibly imperfect—but understandable—ways, and those qualities are all present in this newest novel.
It focuses on an often difficult stage: the time right after graduation, when everything is in transition. On page one, Riley Larson is in the midst of the graduation ceremony, in a unique position: she’s the only person in her high school to have been rejected by all ten colleges to which she applied. And now? She’s not really sure what she’s going to do.
Riley’s single mom has the plan that she always has for Riley. She’s going to keep her busy, keep her focused, keep her from wandering. So, Riley should get a job and take community college classes until she has a different, mom-approved plan. But Riley isn’t so sure that’s what she wants.
After some mild trouble a few years back, Riley’s mother signed her up for a varied and never-ending array of extracurricular activities, leaving her no time just to be . . . or to be with her best friend, Tom.
Tom has been Riley’s best friend since they were kids, when their mothers met at an event for single moms and sort of forced the issue of their friendship. But then, that friendship became deep and sincere, a core relationship for each of them, even after Tom and his mother moved to New York City and that friendship was maintained through phone calls and facetime and texting.
Since the move, Riley has not been able to see Tom in person, and now seems like the perfect chance for Riley to go to New York (something she’s always wanted to do) and see her best friend. Her mom is REALLY opposed, but Riley is 18, and she makes the choice—unusual for her—to defy her mother and go anyway.
That’s the moment this book really begins.
Riley reunites with Tom, who is the same guy she’s always known. Sort of. He’s taller and even more handsome. More important, she realizes, he’s become shy and a bit solitary. Back home, Tom had always been the extroverted, friendly glue that held together a bevy of friend groups, but in New York, he’s a loner.
So, Riley extends her quick, weekend trip to a longer stay, determined to set up a web of friendships that will buoy Tom even when she returns home. That decision—the decision to stay—sets up a conflict with Riley’s mom and endless possibilities.
Oh, friends, I loved this book so much. I teach seniors, so I see how the pressure to do all the things, all the time, can take its toll on students, who are supposed to know exactly who they want to be and exactly what they’re doing for the rest of their adult lives. It’s a lot. Lord deals with that stress so beautifully with Riley, who has been resentful since her mom’s mission began but now finally has the time to stop and really consider what it has meant for her.
Riley loves writing, loves creating, loves being around people and building deep friendships and putting together adventures big and small, but she hasn’t had the time to do any of those things because she’s been so busy doing . . . busy things. Now, she has the strong support of Tom again and the leisure time to realize just how much she missed having leisure time.
Of course, there are multiple threads that keep this book moving, including the getaway list of the title, which is the list of adventures that Riley and Tom vowed to take the next time they saw each other. There’s also a fantasy book series that they both love, new friends in New York and old friends who move there, too, and an absolutely lovely friends-to-lovers romance that captured my heart.
It’s the self-discovery, though, that resonated most for me, that made me cheer for Riley (and for Tom, and for their other friends who are in the same stage of life). It’s the way her relationship with her mother isn’t dismissed but is instead reshaped and reconsidered now that Riley’s out of school (wow, that story hit hard, since I have a high-school junior at home!). It’s the beautiful portrait of beautiful, flawed people who are just beginning their lives and who are making the inevitable, necessary mistakes that it takes to figure out who they are.
I can’t recommend The Getaway List enough.
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