A young woman starts an unexpected relationship while studying at Oxford in Whelan’s debut.
Ella Duran has a lot going on. After dreaming of studying at Oxford since she was a girl, she’s finally there on a Rhodes scholarship, studying English language and literature from 1830-1914. She still has a career back in America, though—working in politics, where she has a chance to be the education consultant on a junior senator’s campaign for president. She’ll be working remotely and flying back to D.C. the second her year in Oxford ends. It all seems to be working out perfectly…but then she meets Jamie Davenport. After he runs into her in a chip shop and knocks a plate of condiments into her shirt, she thinks he’s just a jerk and assumes she’ll never see him again. But when she walks into her first day of class, she’s dismayed to see that Jamie Davenport is her professor. Ella is soon making connections with her brainy classmates, including dramatic Charlie, pink-haired Maggie, and goofy Tom. She also begins a friendship with Jamie that soon turns into much more, although his reputation as a playboy and her short time in England make her assume that their “relationship” has an expiration date. But Jamie is charismatic and adventurous, and Ella can’t help falling for him—which is why it’s such a shock when she discovers that he’s been hiding a huge secret. He has cancer, and now Ella must decide if their relationship will really be over when her Oxford year ends or if she wants to stay by his side through the inevitable ups and downs of his illness. Whelan describes Oxford richly, allowing readers to almost smell the chips and hear the bustle on the streets. Ella is an engaging narrator, one many readers will easily relate to, and her friends are fun, wacky characters who trade quips as quickly as if they were on Gilmore Girls. Ella and Jamie’s relationship, which could so easily turn saccharine, always feels genuine, in part because the description of his illness and chemo focuses on the realistically awful details. Despite the subject matter, the story is infused with enough humor that it never feels unbearably heavy.
Whelan has created a beautiful, romantic story that focuses on big ideas—love, death, poetry, and what really matters in the end.