With Loveboat, Taipei, Abigail Hing Wen delivered a strong coming-of-age story wrapped up in a fun, entertaining and glamorous package. Ever’s journey of self-discovery played out over one dazzling summer in Taipei, telling a story of young and mostly wealthy teens letting loose while figuring out what they want from their lives and how to balance that with their family’s expectations. It was a brilliant read that left you wanting more, and yet Ever’s story definitely felt very complete by the end of the book, leaving the question of just where story could go from there.
Enter Loveboat Reunion. This companion novel serves as a sequel in that it picks up after the events of Loveboat, Taipei, but this time Ever isn’t the one whose story is being told. Instead, Hing Wen shifts the focus to two of book one’s supporting players and it’s through the eyes of Ever’s now best-friend and former roommate Sophie Ha and her summer hook-up (and Ever’s one-time love interest), Xavier Yeh, that we see what happens next.
After their spectacular blow-up over the summer, Sophie and Xavier end up parting ways as tentative friends, ready to put the mistakes of their past behind them. Sophie goes on to start her freshman year at Dartmouth and she makes it her mission to be the best student ever in a bid to secure her future. Meanwhile, Xavier is forced to repeat his senior year of high school in Los Angeles if he wants to collect his trust fund, cut all ties with his overbearing father and distance himself from his family’s intimidating legacy for good.
With Sophie determined to put in the work to impress her professor and Xavier setting out to create a major project that will put him one step closer to the financial independence he’s always craved, they both agree to help each other to achieve their goals and take control of their own futures. Before long they’re increasingly turning to each other for support and friendship, and their connection is strengthened once again when they’re brought back together in person during an impromptu Loveboat reunion. But as they start working even more closely together, Sophie and Xavier find it difficult to resist the chemistry that has already led them to disaster once before. Can they succeed together, or are they destined to combust?
The truth is, I like feeling beautiful and bold in exciting clothes. I love doing things like tonight’s event, galvanising people around a plan and bringing them together. I love having a big idea, digging deep, making it work. Showing that I have a vision – one that shouldn’t be dismissed. Can I be all of those? Have all of those?”
Loveboat Reunion is a story that feels both a lot bigger and a lot more mature than its predecessor. If Loveboat, Taipei was a dramatic whirlwind of exciting foreign locations, extravagant parties and bad decisions, then Loveboat Reunion definitely takes a more grounded approach, even while still managing to maintain an element of the Gossip Girl-esque level of excess that we’ve come to expect from the Loveboat crew. While Ever’s individual story was realistic and well developed, it was also often wrapped up in escapist, wish-fulfilment elements, featuring extravagant nights out, a summer abroad and the perks of being around the uber-wealthy.
By contrast, Sophie’s life in Dartmouth feels a lot more relatable. She struggles to be taken seriously by her professor and has to work three times as hard as her better-connected classmates to convince anyone that she’s more than just a pretty face. Xavier also faces problems that will be familiar to many as the novel explores his dyslexia and dysgraphia, documenting all of his frustrations, disappointments and struggles to be seen and understood, as well as detailing Xavier and his father’s tense relationship and highlighting the extent of the toxic and abusive behaviour that Xavier has suffered in silence for so long too.
In their acceptance and support of each other, Sophie and Xavier are able to offer the other a new perspective, and each is encouraged to fight for their passions, nurture their talents and learn to accept themselves for who they are and what they have to offer the world. It also allows the connection between Sophie and Xavier to be explored again in a natural way, with their shifting feelings for one another never feeling at all contrived for the sake of having a romance plot. Many of their interactions are underscored with the kind of chemistry that makes slow burn love stories such a delight to read. It was no different here, with the book leaving readers with a big smile on their faces as Sophie and Xavier learn to open up to each other again. Hing Wen built their relationship back up from bitter exes, to tentative friends, to partners, to more so effortlessly that not only do Sophie and Xavier’s feelings for one another end up feeling completely believable but, actually, almost inevitable too.
While the glitz, glamour and drama of that first book is still very much present and accounted in Loveboat Reunion – albeit in smaller doses – there’s no denying that this follow-up benefits from expanding its world and grounding its characters. Rick and Ever’s story in Loveboat, Taipei felt very much like a modern day fairytale, complete with ‘wicked’ side characters in the form of Sophie and Xavier themselves. In Loveboat Reunion, Sophie and Xavier are granted the opportunity to learn, grow and develop further, and the result is a warm and engaging story that’s a bit quieter and less flashy than its older sibling, but one that delivers new depths and cements Abigail Hing Wen’s position as a YA contemporary author worth looking out for.
Loveboat Reunion was published by Simon & Schuster Children’s on 25 January 2022