Meant to Be
London: home of the Globe Theater, Queen Elizabeth II and Earl Grey tea. It is a city more commonly associated with intellectualism and keeping a stiff upper lip than with epic romance, Love Actually aside. But for Julia Litchenstein, alias “Book Licker,” it might as well be the city of love. When we first meet Julia, a 16 year old who keeps a (most likely abridged) version of Shakespeare’s complete works in her purse and who believes she has already found her soul mate, she is London-bound. Her plane is going through a patch of turbulence, and her distressed reaction to what is a common occurrence on most flights clues us in to the fact that she doesn’t take well to disorder of any kind.
"Lauren Morrill's MEANT TO BE plays out like one of Julia’s beloved Bard’s comedies, complete with mistaken identities, miscommunications and misplaced love."
In contrast, Jason Lippincott, an American Prince Harry from his fire-red hair to his mischievous, easygoing charm to his rich, well-connected father and absent mother, thrives on commotion. In fact, he is often the cause of it. Needless to say, Julia is not his biggest fan. However, as fate (or their last names) would have it, the two are paired up as buddies on their class trip to London. The answer to the question, “Will these two opposites attract?”, is a no-brainer, but like in most romantic comedies, the fun is in seeing it happen.
Lauren Morrill's MEANT TO BE plays out like one of Julia’s beloved Bard’s comedies, complete with mistaken identities, miscommunications and misplaced love. The school-trip premise is an asset to making the "opposites attract" plot seem less contrived, as small school trips have a tendency to bond together people who wouldn’t normally interact in a larger school setting. Also, Jason’s out-going and tenacious personality make his persistence in breaking through Julia’s defenses understandable long before we find out his true motivations for wanting to spend time with her.
However, the main draw of MEANT TO BE is Julia’s personal evolution. At the beginning of the novel, she is a person who deals solely in absolutes, even when she does not have much evidence to back up her opinions. She believes her MTB (Meant to Be), Mark, is perfect, even though she has barely spoken to him since kindergarten. She dislikes Jason and the rest of her London classmates because she thinks they are either fashion-obsessed gossips or dumb jocks. She has even idealized her parent’s marriage to the point where she does not believe they ever fought. Thankfully, throughout the novel (and mostly courtesy of Jason), Julia’s black and white worldview starts to blend to shades of gray, and she realizes that perhaps what she has always firmly believed is not actually true. In fact, the most poignant realization she has is one very different from any of Shakespeare’s heroines or most modern romantic comedy heroines have ever had: that the concept of "meant to be" might not exist at all.
Despite Julia’s fixation on finding her soulmate and how that fixation almost makes her miss the great guy right in front of her nose, all's well that end’s well in MEANT TO BE. And the best part of the ending is that our intelligent, determined 16-year-old heroine realizes that the guy she loves right now may not be the guy she loves for eternity, and that is perfectly fine with her.
Reviewed by Erin Allen on November 16, 2012