July 05, 2017

I See London, I See France

Written by Sarah Mlynowski
377 pp.
Ages 13+
July 2017

I See London, I See France could be 19-year-old Sydney Rothstein's travel journal but it's more a story of her coming into herself, evolving from doormat and people-pleaser to the protagonist of her own adventure, all within the grand setting of Europe. It's a bumpy road with a lot of switchbacks, drama and tourist attractions and it's worth the ticket price.

This was the summer trip to Europe that wasn't supposed to happen, although Sydney and her BFF Leela Veer had been planning on it since they were children.  With Sydney's mom's agoraphobia putting the kibosh on her going to college anywhere but home in Maryland, it looked like Leela was going to end up in Europe with her boyfriend Matt whom she'd met at McGill.  But then Matt kisses some random girl and the two break up and he's supposed to cancel his ticket and Sydney's younger sister Addison agrees, reluctantly, to take on the job of caring for their mother for a month and Sydney finds enough money to go.  So, with Travel Europe guidebook in hand and a cell phone which she only uses with free WiFi, Sydney sets out on her excellent European adventure with her supportive but oft-coddled best friend.

They barely get off the ground when the two American girls learn Matt did not cancel his trip but is instead going to be travelling with his best friend Jackson.  Leela can't help stressing over what Matt is doing and if they're going to bump into the guys (and sometimes making sure they do!) and what she still feels for him.  Being the sensitive friend she is, Sydney goes along with Leela, trying to make sure she has a great time, sacrificing her own needs even while stressing over her sister's casual care-giving of their mother.  And, amidst all that emotional balancing act and visits to London, Amsterdam, Paris and several more planned and unplanned destinations, Sydney starts experiencing her own panic attacks and crushing on Jackson, whom Leela calls a "man whore."

How do you have a mind-blowing European adventures with a friend who vacillates between hating and stalking her ex/boyfriend while worrying about your agoraphobic mother who is being looked after by your sixteen-year-old sister? You put on that bon vivant attitude and keep trying new foods and drinks, seeking out the must-see tourist attractions, kissing some random guys and making sure that your BFF has the spectacular adventure you planned. Fortunately, Sydney finds she can talk to Jackson, even when she isn't supposed to be seeing him, and to her college friend Kat whom the girls visit in Paris and unfortunately whom Leela obviously feels threatens her friendship with Sydney.  It's a whirlwind trip of old and new friends, old and new loves, and food and drink–I think I fixated on the waffles and gelato–and selfies.  What they bring home, beyond the snow globes for Addison, is far more than can fit in their luggage.

There are a lot of teens starting their own European adventures right now, perhaps just for the summer or as part of a gap year.  I See London, I See France will certainly resonate with them as they leave family, friends and romances behind and seek to make new connections and memories, some fleeting, some life-long, along the way.  Sarah Mlynowski, who consistently delights with her entertaining and warm-hearted children's, teen and adult books,  takes on this rite of passage for many young people and creates a story that, even with the stressors of family and friends and decision-making, anyone would be pleased to have as their own.  Of course there's angst, both the kind as a result of others' actions and the self-imposed variety, but there's love and sex and novelty and experiences that go beyond the norm.  It's what a summer should be, at least once in your life. Bon voyage!

1 comment:

  1. A bit like my Amanda Travels books except these girls are older. Love any books about travel and what you can learn from it. This one is on my TBR list