Although Lauren Morrill’s debut novel, Meant to Be, tells the story of Julia Lichtenstein, a junior at Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts, it also tells the turbulent tale of teen relationship building, the random chaos of life and love.
Julia, who doesn’t know the word fun because it wasn’t on the SATs, is a stickler for history and geography and rules. Because of her reputation, she has earned nicknames like Book Licker, Professor, and Little Miss Guidebook. When she signs up for the class’ spring break field trip toLondon, she hopes to immerse herself in the rich culture and history of the place, but Jason Lippincott seems determined to thwart those plans.
Lippincott, whom Julia calls a hyperactive eight-year-old, gets paired with Julia as her field trip buddy. For Julia, stuck being her buddy’s keeper for nine days inLondon spells disaster, but after some beer-induced confidence, Julia decides that on this trip she can be anyone. Julia, “the rule-following, Shakespeare-reading, freestyle record-holding übernerd fromNewton” (41) could take on a new persona: Julia, “the girl who attracts all males of the species, who coolly disposes of boys by shoving them into glass-topped tables” (41).
Readers travel the transformation path with Julia as she alternately seeks out and depends on fate for her MTB, her meant to be. As she navigates the turbulent waters of love and tries to make sense of both the madness and her bewitched hormones, Julia becomes the chief resident of Crazy Town. Because of the fairytale image she has concocted of her parent’s idyllic relationship, Julia is convinced that her MTW won’t be “an annoying, immature, uncultured, dirty-joke-telling . . . attention whore” (199). When all she seems to find are self-absorbed monsters, she begins to wonder if love isn’t an illusion and her recollections more the result of her being crushed by memories of her dad’s death.
Its descriptions of adolescent drama make this book especially universal and relevant for teens. Morrill has aptly captured the vacillation between impulsive, thoughtless, disrespectful behavior and the desire to be cool, confident, flirty, and witty. Although she reveals the snotty retorts, the misread signals, and the feelings of being ignored, pitied, and judged; her real focus is on the honest desire to be wanted and pursued, as well as on the pain of pining for someone who doesn’t want you back. Morrill also dips briefly into the feelings of parental loss, from both death and divorce.
Besides receiving a guided tour of London, its museums and sights like Big Ben, Stratford on Avon, and Picadilly Circus, readers will come away from this book with an improved understanding of love. Perhaps love doesn’t come in perfect predictable packages nor always feel like the warm, happy sensation of sipping hot chocolate in front of a fire on a snowy day. Perhaps it looks more like two buddies having a good time.
- Posted by Donna