Before I purchase a book or even put a book on hold at the library, I will often look at Amazon to see what others thought of the book. I try not to be influenced too heavily because there are a LOT of books out there, and many people with varying tastes reading them. Still, it is unusual for me to choose to read a book that got over 1,000 reviews on Amazon with only a three-star average. In fact, The Vacationers, by Emma Straub, received more two-star ratings than five-star ratings.
Still, something about the plot grabbed my attention, and certainly the setting – the island of Mallorca, Spain – was unusual and intriguing. I’m glad I ignored the reviews and read the book because I simply loved it and recommend it highly as a great late summer read.
The Post family is just as dysfunctional as all of the rest of us. After 35 years of marriage, Jim is tempted into an affair with a young employee, and loses his job as a result. Wife Franny is trying to figure out how to deal with the hurt. Their teenaged daughter Sylvia will be leaving for college in the fall, and has the usual angst and eagerness. Son Bobby is just an all-around mess. They all have their own expectations about what they want from this vacation.
I found the characters to be realistic and quite likeable, even with all of their faults. I could relate to Franny’s hurt and confusion, and I found her to be someone with whom I could be friends and certainly could understand her struggle to figure out the future.
I particularly found Straub’s portrayal of Sylvia to be relatively realistic. The teen years are confusing and scary, and yet most teenagers think they have all of the answers. Straub’s Sylvia exemplified these teenage years quite well. Sylvia was suitably snotty, and yet even though she found her parents to be ridiculous most of the time (what teenager doesn’t), she loved them and reached out for them in her own ways.
In some novels, the setting almost becomes a character. While I got a nice feel for vacationing on an island in the Mediterranean, Mallorca itself didn’t become a distraction. I must say, however, it certainly is someplace I would like to visit some day!
There are a lot of characters, and Straub could probably have done without a few (particularly a Mallorcan boy hired to tutor Sylvia in Spanish – really?), each character had something to add to the plot. I particularly liked a storyline around Franny’s best friend, who along with his husband, accompanied the Posts to Mallorca. Their story made me smile.
The Vacationers is an interesting story about family dynamics set amidst the beautiful Med that has a satisfying ending. What wouldn’t you like?