Review: Back When You Were Easier to Love
When Joy’s family relocates from Claremont, CA to Haven, UT, she is forced to leave everything behind: her friends, her future plans, her sense of self. Joy discovers a new town in which religion becomes culture, and most guys aren’t interested in dating because they have to leave on missions after high school. Many of the people in Haven have their lives mapped out; they know what they need to do to be popular and succeed. They fill their time with “beverage nights” and Disney movies, and the soccer players are held up as town heroes.
Joy feels like an outsider in a cookie-cutter society until she starts dating Zan. Zan isn’t like anyone else. He wants to get out of Haven as fast as he can and leave everything behind. Unfortunately for Joy, when Zan goes to college in CA, that means leaving her behind, too. Lacking a sense of closure, Joy and Zan’s former best friend Noah go on a road trip to find Zan. However, it turns out that what Joy misses most of all may be something she never truly had.
Emily Wing Smith’s novel Back When You Were Easier to Love is a quirky but heartbreaking story about loss. Throughout the book, Joy says of many things, “I never had this. I miss it anyway.” Joy imagines all the things she wishes she could have done while living in CA; she obsesses over the life she wanted to be living with Zan. The loss of the future she had planned is perhaps the greatest of all. Despite the tremendous sense of sadness laced through the novel, there is a perfect sprinkle of humor that adds levity and comic relief from the book’s serious tone.
I didn’t know much about Back When You Were Easier to Love before reading it, but chose to get it on tour as part of the contemps challenge. It’s always fun going into a book with no expectations and finding myself pleasantly surprised. Back When You Were Easier to Love is witty, touching, and thought provoking. It included several of my favorite elements: I love a book with a road trip, particularly when the people involved have some romantic tension, and I’m always captivated by stories about the ways in which we misimagine or idealize other people.
I was nervous about the religious element of this book because I’m very wary about being preached at, but I ended up really pleased with its portrayal. Emily Wing Smith manages to take what is seemingly a cardboard town of cardboard people and bring out the depth of both the community and the inhabitants. The characters grow in dimensionality as the story goes on. Joy, too, grows as a person, and I was glad to have witnessed her journey.
Smith’s first book, The Way He Lived, is also set in Haven, UT. I’m looking forward to reading it soon. I’m intrigued by the idea of another book set in the same town, and I can only hope that the book shares the same richness and depth of writing as this one.