Since I heard about the release of My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan this past year, I knew I had to read it. I spent a year studying in England myself, and I remember the trip we took to Oxford… the campus took my breath away. If I had decided to continue my education and get my masters (and, you know, had better grades than I ended up with), I would have gone to Oxford in a heartbeat. It has quirky traditions that I would have loved to experience and it has a history unlike anything we could ever experience in Canada.
Add a cute love story to this breathtaking location? I’m in.
American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.
When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.
Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.
I definitely didn’t see this coming.
Without spoilers, I’ll just say that I was expecting a quick little rom-com about a girl living her best life in Oxford. I expected multiple love interests and for Ella to grow as a person before returning home for her dream job. I was not expecting to be sitting on the train on my way to work bawling my eyes out. (How embarrassing!) It is one of the most touching stories I’ve read in a long time—the plot was refreshing, and the novel made a turn (for the better) that gave it a little something extra. The ending left me wanting a bit more, though I understand why Whelan ended it where she did.
If you’re a fan of Nicholas Sparks, you know, the guy who takes ordinary people and turns their love story on its head, you’ll love The Oxford Year. Just make sure you have some tissues ready—and an open heart because you’ll love every single character by the end of the journey.
Food for thought
As I’ve mentioned, this novel surprised me. The synopsis kept the plot purposely vague, which allowed the reader to go on this journey with an open mind. What’s the last book you read that wasn’t what you expected, but ended up way better than you originally thought?
“The hardest thing is love, with no expiration date, no qualifiers, no safety net. Love that demands acceptance of all the things I cannot change. Love that doesn’t follow a plan.” —Julia Whelan, My Oxford Year
Thank you to Hannah Petersen on Unsplash for the featured photo of Oxford.