AUTHOR: Jennifer E. Smith
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, romance
RELEASE: March 5, 2019
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Field Notes on Love was my first Jennifer E. Smith read, and I know it won’t be my last. This contemporary YA romance was incredibly heartwarming and the kind of book that truly puts a smile on its readers’ faces. Smith has built two lovable, realistic, and multifaceted characters, and has told a love story in such a unique setting. Field Notes on Love poses a big question throughout its narrative—what does it truly mean to love—and together, Hugo and Mae answer in the most perfect way.
This novel is character-driven; while there are many minor characters who we meet along the way, the story is definitely focused on Mae and Hugo. The two have very different backgrounds and experiences: Hugo is a biracial black boy from England, and is the youngest of sextuplets, which hasn’t given him much space to be his own person. Mae is a white girl, and only child raised by queer parents in New York, where she’s had the freedom to explore her love of film and know what she wants in life. The train serves as the perfect setting for this story, as the cross-country journey perfectly mirrors their personal journeys—Mae to creating art that feels real, and Hugo to becoming his own person. They’re both on different journeys, but aboard the same train.
At the start of the novel, Mae is preparing to leave New York to go to California, where she’s been accepted by her dream school, but rejected from its film program. Having submitted a very personal film, she feels devastated and directionless. Mae has a guarded heart, and has held at a distance anyone who tries to get to it. She’s a girl who’s afraid to live and afraid to love, but when she sees Hugo’s add looking for someone by her name to accompany him on a trip, she knows it’s the adventure she needs. As their journey begins, Mae is inspired by an elderly couple to make a film about love. With the help of Hugo, she interviews people across their journey, all over the country: What does ‘love’ mean? How have you been loved? How have you loved? As they collect answers, stories, and glimpses of different lives, they both must find their own answers.
For Hugo, it’s the first time he’s been able to answer these questions for himself. He’s lived his whole life as one of the “Surrey Six,” having been known as a local celebrity merely because of being a sextuplet. But he’s longed for the space and time to be his own person; he wants to be seen as a whole person and not just one-sixth of something. Hugo is a relatable character who has so many self-doubts: is he enough on his own? Will he ever be just Hugo and not one-of-the-Surrey-Six? Is there anything that makes him extraordinary outside of his family? About to start college on a scholarship awarded to the six of them, Hugo desperately wants to take a gap year to figure out who he is on his own, but he struggles with the knowledge that he could jeopardize the scholarship for his brothers and sisters. So many readers (even if they’re not sextuplets!) will relate to Hugo’s desire to be his own person, and feeling trapped by who others want him to be.
This is a story of being at a crossroads, and making your own decisions for the first time. It’s about the world feeling too small and too big at the same time. It’s about wanting to be your own person, but also about how scary it is to show the world who that person is. It’s about the joy of being a part of something, but also the wonder of being solely as you. It’s about having so much to say, but not knowing how to say it. It’s a story about love, but also, it’s a love story.
Field Notes on Love is a book that I enjoyed so much more than I expected, and that I truly enjoyed every moment of. It’s sure to win the hearts of YA contemporary romance lovers. It’s a sweet, slow-building romance about, not just about falling in love, but about what it really means to love and to live. Fans of Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star and Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact will adore this novel. Hugo and Mae’s story of first love, heartbreak, and finding their paths in their own right will resonate with teen and new adult readers, especially. I’ll definitely be waiting for another book from Jennifer E. Smith, and reading her backlist titles in the meantime!