When I was growing up, summer vacations meant driving from Florida to New York and then back again with my family. While I was lucky enough to spend a day in NYC every year, it never seemed as exciting as the idea of traveling to Europe. The history, art, and culture all seemed so romantic, but also so out of reach. I suspect that these factors play a role in the contemporary YA trend of American teens traveling to various cities in Europe.
In the past year, I read four books that centered around American teens spending time in Europe. Even after having traveled a bit as an adult, these books continue to draw me in with their romantic and adventurous stories set in exciting cities that I grew up reading about and seeing in movies. ll four are contemporary stories set in Western European countries, but each one tells a different tale of maturity, independence, self-discovery, and romance. These are not simply stories about American teens vacationing in Europe; they are about experiencing life. The locations allow characters to encounter new situations, people, and struggles, opening the door for personal growth.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Popular Paperback for Young Adults, 2012 Readers’ Choice List Pick)
Some people may dream of studying in Paris, but Anna is not one of them. Her father’s decision to send her to boarding school for her senior year is going to ruin her plans for an awesome year with her best friend and potential boyfriend. The one glimmer of hope for her is when she meets St. Clair. As their friendship grows, so does Anna’s attraction to St. Clair. Between his girlfriend and her crush back in Atlanta, Anna’s life becomes a lot more complex with broken hearts and broken friendships. This American girl may lose the opportunity to enjoy Paris if she cannot sort her life out.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Hadley is on her way to London to attend her father’s wedding. She is not too excited to be traveling so far to see him marry a woman she has never even met. If that wasn’t reason enough to be annoyed, she missed her flight and is now stuck at JFK waiting for the next one. Things start to look up, though, when she meets Oliver, who is cute, British, and sitting with her on her new flight. Will their connection end when their flight ends in London, or can they possibly find each other once again?
Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
When high school junior Julia takes off on a school trip to London, she plans to take in the history of the city. After being assigned to partner with Jason, the class clown, she finds herself leaving the comforts of her hotel room for a party where she is far more social than usual. After the party, flirty text messages start appearing on Julia’s travel phone. With Jason’s assistance, Julia finds herself experiencing London, and life, without schedules or a predetermined “meant to be.”
Just One Day by Gayle Forman (current nomination for Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers)
After a three-week European tour with a group of teens, Allyson is ready to head home to resume her neatly planned life and start college. Unexpectedly, she is given the opportunity to do something entirely un-planned: accept the offer of a handsome stranger to spend one day in Paris. It may only be a twenty-four hour detour, but Allyson finds her whole life and perspective changed. Will she be able to return to her life back home and leave that day behind?
These books also make something that may appear exotic and daunting seem more approachable. When I read Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes (2006 Teens’ Top Ten Pick, 2006 Best Book for Young Adults, 2009 Popular Paperback for Young Adults) a few years ago, I was shocked at Ginny’s ability to travel around Europe on her own. I was an adult at this point, and this idea still frightened me. But Americans of all ages visit countries all over the world every day and do just fine. Reading about these adventures, even in fictional stories, makes the idea of traveling seem less frightening and more possible.
Reading about travel is not the same as actually traveling, but it can be an excellent way to explore for those who are not able to take their dream trips. These are all excellent reads for contemporary YA readers who have traveled, who want to travel, or who are just looking for a fun story.
What are your favorite international travel stories to recommend?
— Jessica Lind, currently reading Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt