Book Club January 2017

This month’s book club book was picked by Stephanie and was London Belongs to Me. I think our book club could call ourselves a group of Anglophiles as we all love England, their royal family, and their history. I was excited when Stephanie picked this book because I had been wanting to read it for a while!

 Jacquelyn Middleton
Published Year: 2016
Publisher: Kirkwall Books
Pages: 394

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Summary (Provided by Goodreads): Your flight is now boarding! Join Alex Sinclair for a life-changing, trans-Atlantic journey. London Belongs to Me is a coming-of-age story about friendship, following your dreams, and learning when to let go … and when to hang on.

Meet Alex, a recent college graduate from Tallahassee, Florida in love with London, pop culture, and comic cons. It’s not easy being twenty-one-years-old, and Alex has never been the most popular girl. She’s an outsider, a geeky fangirl … with dreams of becoming a playwright in a city she’s loved from afar, but never visited. Fleeing America after a devastating betrayal, she believes London is where she’ll be understood, where she belongs. But Alex’s past of panic attacks and broken relationships is hard to escape. When her demons team up with a jealous rival determined to destroy her new British life, Alex begins to question everything: her life-long dream, her new friends, and whether London is where she truly belongs.

                                                                    What I thought

After heartbreak and college graduation, Alex decides to move to London to try to be a playwright. She was actually born in England and her father currently lives in Manchester. When she first moves to London, she moves into her friend Henry’s flat for cheap rent. However, the flat is also occupied by his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s brother. This story follows Alex as she tries to find herself and find success in a new country.

I definitely wanted to like this book so much more than I did and I worry that this review might come off more negative than I mean for it to. So I will start by saying, I enjoyed this book and read it quickly. At no point did I feel like I wanted to put it down but was only finishing it because of book club. Now that I’ve made that clear, I did have issues with this book.

Alex is not a likeable main character. She is immature and whiney and frankly annoyed me. Now, I am in my late 20s and Alex is only 21, so maybe I’ve just already lost touch with what it’s like to be a young 20-something and insecure? Either way, I never found that I could really root for Alex because she didn’t know how to root for herself. She had so much that was given to her and she never did anything with it. She is such a weak person and I definitely could not have stood to be friends with her.

In addition to not enjoying Alex, I found the writing to be average and predictable. There were some writing choices that grated on me as I read them and they took me out of the story. For example, Alex is blonde and Henry’s girlfriend is brunette. These are things that only need to be stated once. However, when doing something or saying something, they are often introduced as “the blonde” or “the brunette.” And in totally random places! I don’t need my main character to be referred to in such an abstract way. As for the predictability, it is glaringly obvious that Henry’s girlfriend is going to cause a problem for Alex and find a way to kick her out of the apartment. It is frustrating because it is such a petty character that feels so 90’s rom-com to me. There are also other aspects of Alex’s story, such as past and present romances and the trajectory of her playwriting career, that I figured out within the first few chapters of the book.

Now, I will say that I greatly enjoyed Alex’s friends and that the writing about the setting and the sitting of London was done well. I always enjoyed seeing Alex with her friends because they brought some life, maturity, and dimension to the story (not including Henry who is such an undeveloped character that even though he is her lifeline when she moves to London he is barely mentioned). I also thought that the writing about the actual city of London was done beautifully. It is obvious that this city holds a special place in Middleton’s heart.

                                                                         What Book Club Thought
Book club pretty much had the same issues I listed above. One of the things we agreed on is that it seemed like there were a lot of things going on and just not enough time to dedicate to everything. If Middleton had eliminated a few of the story lines and really focused on a smaller amount, it could've been a lot stronger. We also discussed that a lot of the solutions to the problems seemed to perfect and fell into her lap or came out of nowhere. For example, when looking for an idea for a new play, all of a sudden she has a grandmother who used to be an actress but gave up acting to have her son/Alex's dad. This is a piece of information that Alex has never heard before this exact moment when she needs it. We agreed that while yes, things like this happen in real life, it's rare. For Alex, it's pretty much every solution to every problem.

This was a fun book to read for book club because it wasn't perfect. The story was fun and enjoyable, but there were a lot of core issues. If you need a book club book, I would recommend this book.