Wish You Were Here, to be released in late November by Jodi Picoult, is a pandemic novel. But it’s also so much more. It’s about the necessity of malleable hopes and dreams, whether we want to adjust or not. It focuses on one relatively young, upwardly mobile couple living in New York City. Diana O’Toole works at Sotheby’s, the famous art auction house. And her sweetheart Finn is a surgical resident at a big NYC hospital, working his way up in the medical system. The story begins in mid-March 2020.
Knowing the time frame, you realize from the start that Diana and Finn are in for some major challenges. COVID-19 is just beginning to overrun New York City and the US. And the two have a long-anticipated trip planned to the Galapagos Islands. The first struggle is what to do with the tickets since airports and borders are closing down to limit the spread of the virus.
Finn encourages Diana to take the trip, even though he’s stuck at work caring for a seemingly unending stream of patients. So she heads south, and just barely makes it to their vacation destination island. Where the story goes from there is part travelogue, part character study, and part unexpected twist. Because it comes from the mind of Jodi Picoult. The issues brought up by the twist are a reminder of the world we live in. But I’m not saying anymore because it will indeed spoil your reading experience.
Fundamentally, Wish You Were Here is a COVID-era story that focuses on the universal themes of love and figuring out your life’s purpose. It’s an easy read, despite all the moments of pandemic struggle that feel a bit raw. Honestly, I thought reading about COVID would feel heavy but Diana is so engaging that her story absorbed me.
I loved learning about the Galapagos Islands, from the flora to the fauna to the people living there. Despite the situation being fictional, the location is real and a common bucket-list destination. In this era, surely I’m not alone in reading about escapist locations like the Galapagos.
However, there’s a particular point in the story where Diana makes an unrealistically easy decision. After that, I had a hard time buying the book’s resolution. No matter how much I liked the characters, the pivot point was entirely too simple, especially in the time of the virus. You may feel differently, but given my own pandemic experience, this turning point rubbed me the wrong way.
Still, Picoult is a skilled writer, and Wish You Were Here is no exception to the rule. Not only does she research places, she learns about the real-life people and situations on which she bases her story. Every bit of that background shows in the depth Picoult brings to her novels.
I recommend this book if you’re interested in a journey to the not-so-distant past on a faraway island. The mix of genres, combined with engaging characters will have you devouring Wish You Were Here.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group / Ballantine Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.