Like my recent read of a Colleen Hoover book a few months ago, I finally picked up another bestelling author that everyone seems to swear by: Jodi Picoult. Her 2022 book titled Wish You Were Here was something I put off reading because I knew it was about the pandemic, and I just didn’t feel like plunging myself back into that world quite yet. When I did start it, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and looking back, I really shouldn’t be shocked; there’s a reason she’s a bestselling writer that’s adored by readers across the world – she writes a great story. Even though this book tackles a time most would like to forget, she manages to create a world we don’t mind returning to: no easy feat for any writer.

Plot Summary

Diana has a life plan, and she’s firmly on track to meet her goals; get married before 30, have kids and a house by 35, and grow an impressive career in the art auctioneering world. She’s living in New York City with her boyfriend and surgeon Finn, a dream of a man in scrubs, and they are preparing for their bucket list trip to the Galapagos Islands when the Coronavirus creeps into their world. Finn is told he cannot leave work because of the expected wave of infections, but encourages Diana to go on her own because they booked non-refundable tickets. She found a ring at the back of his sock drawer so is now disappointed he won’t be proposing, but reluctantly goes anyway, too practical to say no. As soon as she lands, the beautiful island of Isabella goes into lockdown, but some locals take pity on her and offer a small apartment for her to stay in while she works out a plan to return home. With basically no internet, mail service, and the majority of her luggage lost, Diana’s carefully crafted travel plans are quickly thrown out the window. Instead she forms a tentative friendship with a local teen girl, her (single!) father, and their grandmother who offered the apartment and occasionally cooks Diana a nice meal. Gradually Diana comes to the realization that being trapped in paradise on your own isn’t so scary…

My Thoughts

There are some fairly massive developments that change the course of the book a few times, but some many not come as a surprise, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. In fact, as I read my summary above, I realize it sounds like the beginning of a Hallmark movie. A woman with a set life plan? You know something’s going to come in and derail it, but instead of a handsome man who grows and sells Christmas trees it’s a deadly pandemic. Despite these somewhat obvious developments, I found myself swept along by Diana’s life, and Picoult is adept at creating a character with obvious flaws, but much to love as well. The problems in her life plan are obvious as soon as you pick up the book, but she’s not an annoying character you want to see fail. Instead, we learn about her childhood, her absent mother and doting father, and slowly come to understand why she acts the way she does. Her family dynamics aren’t positioned as a place of blame for why she is the way she is, but they are worked through in an effort to fully flesh out her character, which makes the twists in the plot much more interesting as we become invested in Diana’s situation.

Picoult also does a fantastic job of placing us back in that time, and she manages to represent a variety of experiences. Finn is of course drowning in his work, and through occasional emails that will ping up on Diana’s phone when she manages to get a bar or two of connectivity, we learn how desperate the situation has become in New York (remember the freezer trucks for holding bodies?). He also finds himself at odds with others; Picoult speaks to the frustrations that many healthcare workers experienced when others would label Covid as an overblown flu, when in reality, people were dying at an alarming rate. Diana is safe from the majority of these concerns, but the introduction of handmade face masks on this island is just one way the virus manages to infiltrate her hijacked vacation. We also get references to wiping down groceries, the Netflix phenomenon Tiger King, and the act of stripping off our clothes as soon as we enter from outside, which are (luckily) all distant memories for me now.

Even if you are hesitant to read a book about the pandemic, I do recommend picking this one up, because it’s not anxiety inducing. Instead, it reminds us how important it is to stay true to ourselves, and sometimes a drastic change is the only thing that’s going to achieve that.

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