First Read of The Year: You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

"University's like this little world,
a bubble of time separate from everything before and everything after."

My first read of the year, You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane, took me right into a book hangover once it ended. Given that it had kept me awake until two in the morning on a freaking weekday, I would say that the ripple was quite predictable. Gosh, I willingly sacrificed my sleeping hours to devour almost everything. The next morning, I woke up with a sense of longing for more Rachel and Ben. I was fatigued but satisfied.

Following the story of two ex-best friends, Rachel and Ben, this book goes back and forth between their college life and the present time which happens a decade later. While Rachel and Ben were inseparable in college, it has been ten years since the last time they saw each other. Upon their first reunion, both are too stunned to believe their eyes. Ben is now married. Rachel has just called off her wedding with a long-time boyfriend.

"I don't expect to be happy ever after. Just happier."

While I could say that I loved the atmosphere of the story and that Sheffield seemed like a lovely place to live in, I could also confidently argue that this book would not be for everyone. You Had Me at Hello might explore the friendship between Rachel and Ben more than anything else, but with quite the history between them, I’m afraid that it could be triggering to some readers considering that Ben was already married.

I condemn cheating. I obviously wouldn’t enjoy this book as much as I did if cheating was involved. With that said, I would reckon that McFarlane played her cards right. I respected Ben for holding his marriage in high regard. It felt relieving to find no reason to hate both him and Rachel. No matter how wonderful Ben was, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were leaning very close to the chart of no cheating but emotionally did.

I liked Rachel. She was intelligent, funny, and sharp. While I couldn’t help but root for her and Ben the whole time, what I considered as a desire for emotional cheating on her part was not okay. What’s more, some scenes felt like they just happened to justify the romance between Rachel and Ben, like (please skip this part if you haven’t read the book yet) Rhys’ cheating in the past or Olivia’s sudden outburst. I didn't mean to complain, but when I did a double take, I realized how these incidents could provoke a different outlook.

Now you seewhen I said that I had quite some mixed feelings about this book, I wholeheartedly meant it. Regardless of the above worries, I still loved Rachel and Ben together. How they transitioned from being almost strangers to friends again seemed so natural, while the rekindled flame was swoon-worthy. A miscommunication trope usually frustrated me, but this book managed to use it as a tool to enrapture me and make me crave more. I also liked the raw conversations between Rachel and her uni friendsthey elevated the mood and made the whole story more awesome. 

I had initially thought that this book looked gigantic for a contemporary novel. I was glad it was that big though. With a thicker volume, this book managed to deliver everything with enough compassion and provided us with an unrushed ending. At one point, I reflected on how much work marriagesor relationships in generalrequired. Overall, You Had Me at Hello might not be as funny as Just Last Night, but it was still the same good read that I very much enjoyed.

"'Seems once was enough to infect me. From then on you've been lying dormant, like a virus. Or an incurable chronic condition that flares up from time to time.'
A long pause, where life transforms from black-and-white to colour.
'I'm eczema?'
Ben beams. 'Eczema of the heart. That's it. Psoriasis of the soul."

Actual rating: 4.5