TITLE: She’s up to no good
AUTHOR: Sara Goodman Confino
GENRE: Genre fiction
PUBLISHER: Lake Union Publishing
PUBLICATION DATE: August 1, 2022
TROPE: friends to lovers, summer romance, vacation
TWs: suicide (0ff-page)
She’s Up to No Good by Sara Goodman Confino is a touching story about resilience and the power of family. After Jenna’s husband blindsides her by asking for a divorce, she feels lost and unsure what to do next. With her life up in the air, Jenna decides to take a road trip with her larger-than-life grandmother, Evelyn, to the seaside town where their family’s history was shaped.
Through the dual timelines of Evelyn’s young adulthood and Jenna’s present, the author tells a beautiful tale of love, loss, and second chances.
– decent character development
– engaging plot
– cute summer romance
– profound theme of family and second chances
WHY YOU SHOULD SKIP IT:
– overwhelming volume of side characters that made it hard to follow the story
– both female MCs are partially unlikable
– nonlinear storytelling
Four years into her marriage, Jenna is blindsided when her husband asks for a divorce. With time on her hands and her life in flux, she agrees to accompany her eccentric grandmother Evelyn on a road trip to the seaside Massachusetts town where much of their family history was shaped.
When they hit the road, Evelyn spins the tale of the star-crossed teenage romance that captured her heart more than seventy years ago and changed the course of her life. She insists the return to her hometown isn’t about that at all—no matter how much she talks about Tony, her unforgettable and forbidden first love.
Upon arrival, Jenna meets Tony’s attentive great-nephew Joe. The new friendship and fresh ocean air give her the confidence and distance she needs to begin putting the pain of a broken marriage behind her.
As the secrets and truths of Evelyn’s past unfold, Jenna discovers a new side of her grandmother, and of herself, that she never knew existed—and learns that the possibilities for healing can come at the most unexpected times in a woman’s life.
The author’s pairing of Evelyn’s free-spiritedness with Jenna’s uptight nature made for a comical and entertaining read.
In the 1950s timeline, where we meet Evelyn as a headstrong young adult, she is a much more likable character. She is confident, sure of who she is, and never pulls her punches. When she sees something she wants, she isn’t afraid to go after it.
Getting to know her when she was younger allowed me to see what shaped her into the feisty grandmother she is in the present. And I adored her bond with her younger sister, Vivie, whose storyline was heartbreaking.
Sadly, I found it difficult to like her in the present timeline. She came off as a manipulative liar who intentionally hides details in an effort to remain mysterious. There was a lot of gaslighting, which didn’t feel right for her relationship with her granddaughter.
In the first half of the book, Jenna comes across as immature and petty. However, as the story progresses, she becomes a more relatable character. Her obsession with making her life look perfect on Instagram felt authentic and reminiscent of modern struggles.
Her character development is admirable, and I liked how she challenged herself by asking, “What would Evelyn do?” Although I found Jenna’s chapters and her summer romance engaging, I was more invested in the 1950s timeline. This timeline had more emotional depth and dealt with deeper societal issues.
The multitude of family members in this book got overwhelming, and a visual representation of a family tree would have helped a lot. Evelyn has many siblings, who, in turn, have many children. Because details are revealed in a non-linear fashion (more on that below), it’s difficult to keep track of everyone, even though most of them don’t play a significant role in the plot.
Eventually, I gave up trying to remember them all. This dampened my reading experience, especially since the story revolves so much around the family’s history.
My main issue with the plot was how the historical details were revealed throughout the narrative. Instead of being told chronologically, Evelyn told Jenna half-truths about her past, making it difficult to follow. Additionally, the large volume of side characters, which didn’t significantly affect the main plot, further complicated the story.
I really enjoyed the 1950s timeline, which is why I gave this book 3 stars instead of 2. The pacing was great, with just the right level of emotional tension and drama. The 1950s timeline had more depth and complexity than the present timeline and kept me engaged throughout. The secret that tore the family apart was truly heartbreaking.
For those who want a simple and easy summer romance, you will be happy with Joe and Jenna’s story.
Although the dialogue is witty and entertaining, the excessive descriptions of settings were distracting and caused me to skim over them frequently. However, the dual timeline is one of my favorite aspects of this book, and the tonal differences between the timelines are easy to follow.
She’s Up to No Good takes you on a heartwarming journey through the ups and downs of family bonds and second chances. You’ll meet engaging characters like Evelyn and Jenna, each with their own quirks and growth throughout the story. While the plot gets a bit intricate at times, and the large family tree might make you reach for a notepad, the book ultimately delivers a compelling tale about love and family that’s well worth the read.
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