by Lauren Layne
Publication: June 29, 2021
(If you’ve never seen You’ve Got Mail then this review will be filled spoilers for both the movie and the book. Please proceed with caution. Sorry!)
To Sir, with Love updates the dial-up connection of You’ve Got Mail with the DM alerts of a dating app; however, the romance doesn’t quite hit the mark. Of course, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s chemistry is a tough one to recreate. The book closely mirrors the plot of You’ve Got Mail, which mirrors the plots of those titles it is an adaptation of. A woman has a connection with a man whom she has regular correspondence, but they have never met, except they have and just don’t realize it. In person, they mostly despise each other, but there’s a bit of a spark that is the complete opposite of hate. There’s enough to differentiate To Sir, With Love and appreciate it on its own merit, but if you love You’ve Got Mail as I do, the comparisons are inevitable.
Gracie’s backstory is compelling. She is a budding artist who gave up her dreams to fulfill her dad’s dreams of keeping their store in the family. Faced with the impending close of the store, she has to figure out what she wants to do–continue daydreaming or live her dreams. The exploration of Gracie’s character beyond the store was an aspect of the book I especially liked, giving her character a bit more depth. The secondary characters fill out Gracie’s life and help enhance the plot. I especially liked neighbor and friend Keva’s potential love line with her boss Grady. There’s just enough information about it for me to want a book about it from Layne in the future.
Here comes the inevitable comparison. I wanted to like the romance but was disappointed with the development of Gracie’s relationships with both Sir and Sebastian. Sir is introduced through messages to Gracie on the dating app. Their interactions appear more formal than personal and sometimes even a bit detached. I could believe it to be an attraction, but I wouldn’t think it was love, not enough to stake my entire love life around it especially because there is no declaration of love, even if you read between the lines.
With Sebastian, Gracie shares a moment–more Sleepless in Seattle than You’ve Got Mail–and it didn’t work that well for me. This is the moment Gracie harkens back to when she thinks of Sebastian. They meet again and grab food a few times, but it never feels like they move beyond that first magical connection. It’s something to build on but the building never reaches love or friendship potential. There lacked a book equivalent of a montage of them getting to know each other and becoming friends. Remember how Tom Hanks knows he needs to change Meg Ryan’s perception of him so he works hard for them to become friends before the final reveal? There’s hardly any of it before Gracie was already saying she was in love with two people. Just like with Sir, this relationship felt one-sided as well. The addition of Sebastian’s point of view might have helped remedy this, helping to establish a connection on his part and build a sturdier foundation for possible later declarations.
I liked the book but had expected a bit more. Despite my disappointment, my heart still managed to flutter as the book neared its conclusion–I am still a hopeless romantic after all.