A Display of Careless Perfection

In a Holidaze: A Novel

“I will no longer snort derisively at descriptions of women in novels falling to pieces with barely a touch.”

This is an utterance of Maelyn Jones, the twentysomething star of Christina Lauren’s latest rom-com who when she realizes that her life is in tatters asks the universe to show what will make her happy. After a near-death car accident, Mae then finds herself in a holiday time loop, unable to escape the week before Christmas in the Utah cabin her family and their friends have frequented her entire life as she tries to confront her deepest desires, including the man she has always loved.

In a Holidaze. By Christina Lauren. Gallery Books. 2020. Hardcover.

How did I get the book?

This was a Book of the Month pick this month, and desperately trying to feel in the holiday spirit, I decided to go with it. I’m not usually such a Grinch but this year has been testing, so I figured reading something festive could break the spell.

You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!

What did I think?

“Call me harlot. Call me impulsive. Call me hungover,” Maelyn says as the novel opens, waking up after drinking too much and making out with the wrong man. That is a lot of negative identifiers. “I want to be happy,” Maelyn admits, “and I'm petrified that the path I'm on now is going to leave me bored and alone.” As she starts reliving the week before Christmas, Maelyn tries to figure out what path might be better, working to determine which things in her life she does because she genuinely enjoys them and which have just become part of a comfortable routine. The things in the former category lead Maelyn away from her job in California and instead to the Utah cabin, where she is so happy that she almost feels hammered. “Yes, I'm happy, and I find myself believing that is the goal here,” Maelyn says as she tries to understand the time warp, “but what I don't know is why, or how to hold on to it. Nobody can be happy all the time. What happens when I'm not?”

A major reason for Maelyn’s happiness is Andrew, the older son of her parents’ college friends who she’s been in love with for as long as she’s understood what that means. (“If you put all my favorite things in a Willy Wonka machine, I'm pretty sure Andrew Hollis is the candy that would come out,” she says.) The two engage in all the traditional holiday cuteness of snowball fights and sledding as Maelyn develops the courage to finally reveal her feelings for him, shocked at her own boldness. “I know I've never deserved him—he's too good for any mortal—but it never stopped me from wanting him anyway,” she says. “I'm infatuated with him beyond distraction.” Slowly, however, Maelyn’s pessimism turns into acceptance, knowing that the way Andrew is always able to calm her down must mean something.

Maelyn’s love story is nice, but her openness to the truth is actually more profound as she finds the power to admit things she previously kept locked inside for fear of doing otherwise. “I was falling down a mental rabbit hole of dread, panicking about losing the one thing in my life that always made sense before,” Maelyn says of her state of mind before the time warp. “I'm just tired of being so careful all the time.” But in finding her voice and being open, Maelyn also realizes she doesn’t always have to be careful. “Maybe it's not about making the right choices exactly but making the right choice because you're finally being you,” she thinks. “It can't be a coincidence that the moment I stopped being passive and followed my instincts, everything seemed to fall into place. I know what makes me happy—trusting myself.” This might be a bit messy, but it’s also necessary in order for growth to occur. “You're twenty-six,” Maelyn’s mother reminds her. “This is when you're supposed to do crazy things and mess up a little.” Here’s to hoping the same is true of twenty-four.

Final Verdict?

🌟 2.75/5 — Above Average

The novel has a way with little details, like Maelyn describing the holiday week at the cabin as “the celebratory red circle on my calendar countdown” or depicting the “fog of feelings” she has whenever Andrew is around, the ones that make her feel like, “I just want to be held, to be hugged by him in a moment that isn't about saying hello or goodbye.” From Andrew saying he “appreciates [her] honesty” when Maelyn confesses her feelings for him (“The worst thing he could say right now”) to their eventual awkward laughter when naked together in bed before talking for hours, a certain kind of charm is woven into this version of reality that gives you the briefest hit of goosebumps in places that may not have felt anything in a while thanks to the pandemic.

However, while I understand that the point of a rom-com is to keep things light and happy, I was also annoyed by some of the underbaked elements in the novel. Andrew and Maelyn’s disagreement over her unsettledness concerning the time warp, for example, blowing up into a very dramatic argument/eventual proclamation of love left me confused. I also wasn’t entirely sold on their connection. Maelyn is certain that the universe giving her another chance to make things work with Andrew by having her redo the week is some sort of act of kindness because she is able to share intimate things with him, “Letting someone really see you—minus the filters,” as she puts it. “Isn't that what people do when they care about each other?” Maelyn adds. “They share their flaws and mistakes just as readily as they share their strengths?” I don’t know if I’d say sharing their favorite candies and some dirty talk in closets really falls into this description, but perhaps my idea of confidential information is just a tad more complex.

Beyond the book.

Christina Lauren is the pen name of writer and friend duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who have written a number of #1 bestselling Young Adult and Romance titles, including The Honey-Don’t List. They often give readers a look into their personal and professional relationships on their Instagram page, sharing fun chat videos, book giveaways, and more.

If you’re in the mood for more romance heading into 2021, they have a new title coming out next spring: The Soulmate Equation. A workaholic, data scientist single mother has sworn off dating until she hears about a new matchmaking company that claims to find your soulmate using your DNA. Intrigued, she signs up and discovers that she is a 98% match with the company’s founder, a man who is her complete opposite. Sounds like a swoon-fest already.

See you again soon!

Rachel x