Big Wild Love Adventure by Julianna Keyes
June 20, 2022
Review by Iby
Emmy Shaw is having a terrible year. Her fiancé leaves her at the alter – after announcing that he got his girlfriend pregnant – and Emmy has sunk her life savings into a failing food truck. After another professional catastrophe, Emmy is drunkenly persuaded to enter a reality dating show set in the jungle with the potential to win $250,000, and to her own shock, is accepted. The plot is meant to be escapism at its finest – and Julianna Keyes succeeds with this fun take on a reality show romance.
The action really starts when Emmy is struggling to hike alone in the Panama jungle. She eventually finds the other contestants, and most of the book centers around Emmy learning more about who she is and what she wants out of life. This is a reality show, so there are absurd challenges, and some of the contestants are a bit difficult to remember (was Beth the ballet dancer? Do we know anything about Harvey?), which was probably intentional. As she goes through each week paired with a potential romantic partner, Emmy gets to know Wes, a more reserved, handsome contestant, who immediately makes her feel romantic things she hasn’t felt since her terrible would-be wedding day.
I think Julianna Keyes is an underrated and under-hyped author. I really loved her book “Going the Distance,” and her female main characters all seem flawed and real. I’m not a huge reality show fan, so some of the challenges seemed a bit silly, but Julianna wrote Emmy in such a way that the reader knows that Emmy finds it ridiculous that she is crying over a couple being voted out of the jungle, and this in-on-the-joke characterization really works for me.
If I could say anything somewhat negative about the book, it’s that I wish we could see a little more into Wes’s personality. He is kind, wealthy, and practical – but who else is he? What else does Emmy grow to love about him? In this, Keyes leans a little more heavily into women’s fiction, where the heroes can be a little less fully drawn, as the focus is on the heroine’s journey. Although Emmy is fantastic, she seems to only have one friend in life and doesn’t seem close to her parents or the rest of her family. I wish we could see a little more of why Emmy is such a loner, even from her own family (who I’m assuming didn’t take the evil ex-fiancé’s side in the split).
Overall this was a charming read. I rooted for Emmy and Wes to find true love on their big adventure. I was swept away in their reality show world, and would definitely read more (maybe a bonus epilogue?) about this couple back in the real world.
Highly recommend for anyone looking for a fun, low-stakes vacation read – especially one that will leave you with a smile on your face.