London Calling

Opposites attract in Lauren Morrill’s new YA novel

by Tina LoTufo

Meant To Be
By Lauren Morrill
Delacorte Press
304 pages
$17.99

In Lauren Morrill’s new young-adult novel, Meant To Be, brainy, uptight, rule-following Julia Lichtenstein sets out on her junior-year class trip to London. She can’t wait to soak up the old-world ambiance of historical sites associated with her literary heroes, but that’s before Mrs. Tennison, her teacher and chaperone, alphabetically assigns each student a buddy, and Julia is suddenly saddled with Jason Lippincott, a vulgar, arrogant, rule-breaking jerk. “Flying, children, models, and being late. And Jason Lippincott. The list of things I hate is getting longer by the minute,” she thinks to herself while waiting for her bag at the airport after a nerve-wracking flight. At least her best friend Phoebe is keeping an eye on things back home in Boston—including Julia’s MTB (“meant to be”): dreamy Mark Bixford, her first childhood sweetheart and current crush. So despite a few setbacks, detail-oriented Julia resolutely gathers her courage and her resources—“an itinerary highlighted and underlined, of course, full of visits to places I’ve only read about or imagined and a duffel bag full of guidebooks, notable passages flagged with an array of colorful Post-its”—and prepares for the educational trip of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, Jason has other ideas, the first of which involves sneaking out after curfew to attend a huge party in a stranger’s plush townhouse. Dared to prove that she can be fun and rise above her nerdy reputation and “Book Licker” nickname, Julia succumbs to temptation but later has second thoughts. “Not even one day as Jason’s buddy, and already my worst fears have come true,” she thinks. “I find myself in some kind of live-action video game nightmare, where the object is to shoot down as many drunk, irritating teen boys as possible.” Seemingly endless indignities follow: touring the Tate Museum with her first-ever hangover, accidentally knocking over a suit of armor at Buckingham Palace, dragging a drunken Jason home from the streets of London in the middle of the night and—due to a lost room key—having to sleep in his room until morning or risk Mrs. Tennison’s wrath. Nothing goes according to plan—not a trip to Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, or a tour of the Tower of London, or even a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe—not with Jason around to foul things up.

And yet Julia slowly begins to see another side of Jason—and a more serendipitous side of London—as they belt out “Sweet Caroline” in a less-than-soundproof record-store listening booth, dance to live music in the back of an antique bookshop, and even take a ride on the London Eye, during which Jason opens up about ghosts from his past. But these tranquil moments never last long, and Julia sternly reminds herself, “My MTB won’t be an annoying, immature, uncultured, dirty-joke-making boy like Jason. He won’t be an attention whore who is spending every waking minute trying to be the loudest person in a room. He won’t be a guy who hasn’t even read a single book, much less a Jane Austen novel!”

Fortunately, England is casting a spell: “The bus speeds down the M40, passing towns with names that sound like they’ve come straight out of a Harry Potter novel, like Boltmore End and Tiddington,” Julia observes. “Mile after mile of vivid green rolls by. I can barely sit still in my seat. I even have to put my book back in my bag. For the first time in my life, I can’t concentrate on Pride and Prejudice.” Unfortunately, she can’t often concentrate on the scenery, either—not with Mark to daydream about and Jason to haul out of trouble. As the Bard of Avon himself once said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And in Meant To Be, Julia is in for a bumpy ride indeed.

Published Thursday, 15 November 2012