The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary Contemporary Romance June 1, 2021 by Berkley Reviewed by Kate
Having read The Flatshare and The Switch by Beth O’Leary, I had an expectation going into The Road Trip. The expectation was that The Road Trip would be lighter on the romance arc, but funny and heartwarming and sweet regardless. However, The Road Trip didn’t really fit those expectations. The Road Trip is a book with a reader’s guide at the back, and a content warning list that feels like it could be a mile long. Sure, there were funny moments (the scene where Rodney thinks Deb has drowned in a river was a highlight), but overall, I was disappointed.
The Road Trip is told in “Then” and “Now” chapters and alternates between Addie and Dylan narrating. The “Then” chapters tell of the start and end of Addie and Dylan’s relationship, and the “Now” chapters are the story of the road trip to a friend’s wedding, when Addie, her sister Deb, random wedding-goer Rodney, Dylan, and Dylan’s friend Marcus end up smushed in a Mini Cooper for an over 10 hour drive.
Now, I love a good road trip romance, because forced proximity is great, and what better kind of forced proximity than in a car? But for this story, I didn’t feel like it was a great set-up for resolving the relationship issues of Addie and Dylan. As the reader learns, they broke up for a reason, and being shoved in the car with three other people doesn’t feel like a great place for communication or an honest discussion of what has changed since the break-up to allow for a second chance at the relationship.
Though we got both Dylan and Addie’s narration, I never felt like I understood Dylan, and I didn’t really understand why the two of them were together. They spend most of the “Then” chapters apart or fighting. In the “Now” time, one thing that Addie views as an example of how Dylan has changed since they broke up is that he allows her to buy her own lunch without making a big deal out of it – and that would be a lovely example, except Dylan has been cut off by his father and no longer has any money. So it doesn’t feel like it was an intentional effort by Dylan to change for Addie, but just kind of a side effect of his life choices. Additionally, the description of the book makes it seem like there are just some lifestyle differences that split Dylan and Addie up, but it is (in my opinion) way worse than that – and (also in my opinion) 100% Dylan’s fault. So I don’t quite understand how 24 hours could convince Addie that Dylan should be forgiven.
And then there’s Marcus. Whew. That man is a piece of work. He clearly is depicted as having addiction and mental health issues, but he does some rather unforgivable things in the name of “supporting” Dylan. His storyline was so wild that there was a point about 75% in that I actually thought to myself “is this a thriller disguised as a romance novel?” And even in the “Now” chapters, Marcus is still a bit of an asshole and I don’t feel like there was enough demonstrated change or sincere remorse to merit Dylan giving him another chance at friendship.
I originally wrote this review without including this spoiler, but I really think that it’s important for a reader to know what they’re getting into. Basically, I can’t explain how *bad* the break-up and events leading up to it (and why I feel Dylan and Marcus are almost irredeemable) are without completely spoiling the plot, so if you don’t want to know, please skip this spoiler:
Marcus starts following Addie around to “prove” to Dylan that she is not a good partner for him. After a day at work, Addie and the principal at her school have a glass of wine together in his office – Addie had been sending him text messages and was feeling slightly guilty about the interactions, but it had not gone farther than that. When they were in the principal’s office, he grabbed Addie and kissed her within view of the window, and then backed her up and tried to go farther, but Addie ran away. Marcus, having followed Addie, was watching outside the window, sent Dylan a picture of Addie and the principal kissing and Dylan shows up. The principal comes out of the school and tells Dylan some story about how Addie came on to him, etc., and Dylan believes him. Dylan goes home to Addie, and won’t let her tell her side of the story, and breaks up with her. He finds out a week later from her sister that she was almost raped, but Addie won’t talk to him about it, aside from asking him not to tell Marcus. So Marcus still doesn’t know until the “Now” chapters of the road trip.
Overall, I went into The Road Trip expecting a lighter read, and I got something much more intense than I anticipated. Though readable, it definitely doesn’t feel like O’Leary’s earlier books, and I was disappointed by how the plot progresses. If you go in knowing what to expect, you may have a better experience than me, but definitely be careful with this one.
Content warnings: Alcoholism, depression, sexual assault, homophobia, emotionally abusive parent