If you’d asked me a few months ago what my favourite rom-com of the year so far was, I’d have replied, without a moment’s hesitation, Emily Henry’s Happy Place. Skip forward to summer and my traitorous heart has jumped ship thanks to Jessica Joyce’s sizzling rivals-to-lovers road-trip romance You, With A View. It features all the elements that I adore most in a rom-com: sparky love-hate back-and-forth banter, fiery sexual chemistry, two overachieving, hyper-competitive central characters, and a heart-warming family backbone that softens their sharp edges. With all that and more, it was inevitable that I’d fall in love with this story from the get-go.
Noelle Shepherd has hit rock bottom. Once voted most-likely-to-succeed in high school, she’s now unemployed, uninspired and back living in her childhood bedroom, stalking her successful contemporaries on social media and feeling miserable about herself. Overshadowing the shame over her failure as a photographer, however, is her grief over the sudden loss of her beloved grandmother, who wasn’t just her biggest champion and confidante but her best friend too. When she discovers a stash of decades-old photos and letters that hint to a forbidden romance in her gram’s past, Noelle creates a TikTok video appealing for information. It unexpectedly goes viral, leading Noelle to Paul – her grandmother’s secret lost love.
When she meets up with Paul to find out more about her grandmother’s past, Noelle also comes face-to-face with Paul’s grandson – who just so happens to be her exasperatingly handsome and infuriatingly smart high-school rival Theo Spencer. Sparks fly from the moment they set eyes on each other, and when Noelle and Paul decide to embark on the adventure her gram planned but never went on, Theo tags along – much to Noelle’s annoyance. She doesn’t want successful ‘Forbes Under 30’ Theo to know what a disaster her life has become. But it’s only two weeks. Surely she can hide her failure and survive the close confines of a road-trip for that amount of time? With one minivan, plenty of secrets, and often only one bed between them – Noelle’s plan to keep Theo at a distance is hopeless from the beginning. And the closer their forced proximity becomes, the more their hidden feelings – and truths – slip out into the open.
I shoot him a glare, and it’s as effective as if we’ve actually hurtled back in time. We used to exchange endless jabs in class, on the tennis court where we both played varsity, at parties. Through unfortunate luck, we liked the same people, so our paths crossed constantly. Murdering him with my eyes is muscle memory. His returning smirk is, too. He loved riling me up.”
From the very moment Noelle and Theo are thrown back into each other’s lives, I knew theirs was going to be a will-they-wont-they relationship that I would root for all the way. The open hostility and witty barbs they toss at each other mingles with the obvious attraction they’re both fighting. And fight they do – constantly and enthusiastically – a delicious verbal spar that they enjoy a little too much, revealing more about their feelings than they initially realise. The rivalry they shared as students hasn’t lessened in the years they haven’t seen one another. If anything, it’s intensified, fuelled by Noelle’s frustration that Theo has lived up to every lauded accomplishment expected of him and she stumbled at the first hurdle.
Yet Theo’s life isn’t as perfect as Noelle thinks it is. He has his own secrets, which slip out when they play ‘Tell Me A Secret’, a running game that has them divulging their innermost thoughts and intimate desires. The roadtrip with Paul allows Noelle to see a different side to her long-time rival. He loves his grandfather, as Noelle loved her grandmother, and his grumpy, terse exterior is a mask for a pain he doesn’t let anyone close enough to see (unless you’re stuck on a roadtrip together, and then it’s impossible to ignore). When the walls they’ve built around their hearts lower, Noelle and Theo have more in common than their perfect school records and vicious tennis serves. It makes their journey from rivals to lovers feel rewarding and well earned, not to mention inevitable.
The scorching chemistry between Noelle and Theo drives every scene they share but this is also a story about family and navigating the grief of losing a loved one. A tender message throughout the book is that a soul mate doesn’t have to be a lover. It can be a sibling or a parent or a grandmother, as is the case for Noelle. Her gram’s death hit her hard but her journey with Paul shows Noelle a different side to the woman she cherished, a side she didn’t even know existed. It makes her feel closer to her gram; the photos, letters and shared memories filling the cracks in her broken heart. The roadtrip is a form of closure, as well as an opening for new opportunities if only Noelle can learn to let go of the fear of failure that holds her back. Theo, too, is such a self-controlled overachiever. He doesn’t know how to fail. Given Noelle’s somewhat of a grudging expert, she’s the perfect person to show him that you’re not defined by superficial success or other people’s lofty expectations.
Jessica Joyce’s debut is a complete joy of a book. It’s tender, swoony, sexy and endlessly witty, with a fun summer road-trip atmosphere and sympathetic characters. I found myself rereading whole chapters as I went along, just to prolong the good-natured bickering and fighting of oh-so-obvious feelings. I already know it’ll be a book I’ll come back to time and time again for that ultimate dose of romantic comedy. And if the teaser chapter for Joyce’s next book is anything to go by, we’re in for another heart-stealer.
You, With A View was published by Penguin on 6 July 2023