Genre: Romance, Comedy
Published: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (June 15, 2021)
Print length: 320 pages
Major spoilers: No
After ten years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene is poised to hang up her wings and finally put down roots. She’s got one trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. But then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone–the absurdly gorgeous, ridiculously cocky man she’s held a secret grudge against for years–is on her flight. And he has the nerve to flirt with her, as if he doesn’t remember the role he played in the most humiliating night of her life. Good thing she never has to see him again after they land….
But when their plane encounters mechanical problems, what should have been a quick stop at the Belize airport suddenly becomes a weekend layover. Getting stuck on a three-hour flight with her nemesis was bad enough. Being stranded with him at a luxury resort in paradise? Even with the sultry breeze and white sand to distract her, it will take all the rum punch in the country to drown out his larger-than-life presence.
Yet the more time Ava spends with him under the hot Caribbean sun, the more she begins to second-guess everything she thought she knew about him…and everything she thought she wanted from her life. And all too soon, she might have to choose between keeping her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds…
ARC provided by publisher
The Layover by Lacie Waldon, while beachy, does not read exactly as advertised. Yes, Ava Greene is working her last trip as a flight attendant after a decade with her airline, and yes, she harbors a deep-seated resentment for her coworker Jack sSone—based entirely on assumptions and hearsay—who just so happens to be scheduled for her final flight before hanging up the ascot. What the summary fails to announce—for reasons unknown, considering this plot point is in no way a spoiler and becomes immediately obvious one page into the book—is that Ava is engaged to be married to a lawyer named Alexander while all of this is happening, a fact for which no one but her mother knows.
This is bound to become a problem for readers who dislike emotional cheating, or even the mere suggestion of it, and Ava remains engaged to her boyfriend of nine months up until around the halfway mark of the layover, well into her romantic development with the real love interest of the novel. The crux of her emotional baggage—that she distrusts due to the romantic betrayals she’s suffered in the past—confuses this plot detail. The immediate and intense attraction Ava feels for Jack both times that she interacts with him over the years (while in two different relationships) makes this characterization feel particularly hypocritical.
She spends a large portion of the narrative berating Jack for his assumed sexual proclivities, calling him a jackass, a notorious man-whore, a womanizing dirtbag, in and out of her head, to name a few, when she’s committed the cardinal relationship sin not once, but twice: indulging in her attraction to another man while in a relationship. Her refusal to establish boundaries with jack while working a flight to Belize—physical or otherwise—or even to admit to him that she’s currently engaged, renders her hatred for the unfaithful a little ridiculous.
Ironic for reasons readers will soon learn, the first time she meets Jack, this is a glimpse at how she acts while she has a boyfriend: “I heard the unplanned lilt of flirtation in my tone and pulled my hand from the lock of hair I’d begun to twirl.”
Ava has an incredibly uncanny ability to shift blame and use others as an excuse for her behavior whenever convenient. In her eyes, the secondhand gossip she’s accumulated over the years concerning Jack’s sex life is reason enough to treat him like trash on and off the clock, despite the fact that she’s “never even heard rumors of Jack being unfaithful.” when she inevitably gives in to his charm, it’s not her, a fully cognizant adult capable of calling off the flirtatious dynamic they’re creating, who’s to blame. It’s him for dragging her down to his level. Enemies to friends to lovers is one of my all time favorite tropes, but in the layover the irrationality of this hot-and-cold dynamic becomes almost unbearable.
Though Jack engages in light teasing throughout the book in an attempt to reciprocate Ava’s hostility, his is never as harsh as hers, never as pointed, never as hateful, resulting in an asymmetrical clash that makes Ava feel like an unapologetic asshole laying in on an undeserving victim for most of the novel.
It’s this unfounded superiority—”Because I am a better person than he is.”—that colors most of her characterization. It’s not limited to Jack, either. The narrative wants you to believe she’s a generous sweetheart, even though she’s prone to passing judgment and looking down her nose at others. She also has a terrible tendency to assume the worst of the people in her life:
“At least I don’t have to tell Meredith. She’d probably be secretly pleased, thinking someone as undependable as I am never deserved a man as stable and wonderful as Alexander in the first place. There’s no question she’d take Alexander’s side about my job.”The Layover
And, of course, the way she’s seen by others lies at odds with her true character:
“‘I’ve flown with Gen before, and people act like she’s crazy. They make jokes about her like she can’t hear them. They treat her like the peroxide has fried her brain. Not you, though. You haven’t made a single snide comment about her behind her back. I doubt you’ve even thought one.'”The Layover
This conclusion from another character’s mouth arrives at an unfortunate point in the narrative, as we’ve been privy to Ava’s innermost thoughts about her coworker Gen for the last 260 or so pages. Based off of one former flight they worked together years ago, here are a few of Ava’s very kind feelings on Gen:
- “I study her, wondering if this is the secret to her personality. Could there be enough alcohol in her hair spray that she’s always a little drunk?”
- “Gen’s comment might feel more offensive if […] Gen thought anything through before she said it aloud. She doesn’t, though. She reminds me of one of those broken faucets that sends water shooting everywhere the moment it’s touched.”
- “[…] There’s something pathetic about telling [Gen] before I’ve told anyone else in the world. It’s like the lonely cat lady who tells the gas station cashier about her promotion because nobody else sticks around long enough for her to get the words out.”
This is not to say these thoughts are totally unfounded—I’ll get to Gen’s character in a moment—or that all of Ava’s inner monologues are mean-spirited. Ava is capable of kindness and compassion, in spite of her snap judgments, and against all odds even develops a heart-warming friendship with Gen over the course of the novel. I can’t entirely fault a character for making observations like these in her head if they’re never spoken aloud, but I can fault the narrative for wrongful characterization. She’s not a sweet angel incapable of cruelty. Her treatment of Jack is in no way anomalous or exceptional. She’s stubborn and irresponsible. Most of all, though, her communication is an utter failure in the face of Jack’s constant transparency, his willingness to be candid about his past when asked.
The result is an aggravating main character who sabotages herself practically the entire novel. The rest of the cast is of a similar caliber.
Alexander, Ava’s fiancé, is one of the worst offenders, though this shouldn’t be surprising considering the novel needs a reason to ruin their relationship and casting him as the villain provides opportunity for the cleanest break. The problem is that Alexander is so flagrantly awful that it becomes hard to believe Ava ever saw anything in him to begin with. How she was able to convince herself she loved a man who has never once listened to her, has canceled every trip they’ve ever planned together, and who talks down to her like she’s a live-in Barbie doll and not an actual human being for nine months only to then discover practically overnight that she actually loved the idea of him is beyond me.
I almost wish Alexander had been written with more nuance. He has no redeeming qualities and his relationship with Ava is completely unconvincing as a result. I’m bored of the black and white hero/villain dichotomy, particularly in the romance genre. I want to see more grey area, more complexity, more depth. I want to see human beings, not caricatures.
Other reviews claimed to find the intricacies of stewarding for airplane passengers boring, but I was actually kind of super enthralled to learn about the decorum, the minutiae, the technicalities of life as a flight attendant. I always love reading within niches like these when they’re rich with detail.
That being said, I do take issue with Gen’s blatant unprofessionalism. I tried not to let this remove me from the narrative, but whenever she did something outlandish, I found myself jokingly thinking, “What kind of establishment are you people running here?”
I don’t claim to be an expert on the rules and regulations of life as a flight attendant, especially not after learning that the author is (or was?) one herself. But I know that this career path is still today one of the most competitive and exacting. The expectations are stringent, the dress code precise, and even though many flight companies claim to be above the sexism/misogyny of early airline culture, there are still clandestine practices occurring during the hiring process that could be called discriminatory—things that women are evaluated for, like body type, age, and marital status, some of which the novel even names as relics of the past.
I understand Gen’s character exists as comedic relief, but because casual sexism/misogyny is already so deeply embedded in this novel, I can’t suspend my disbelief in order to look past how unrealistic her professional behavior is over the course of The Layover. From minor infractions like brazen dress code violations (heavy glitter makeup, extremely short skirts, two high ponytails) to major professional misconduct like poor hygiene, flirting/propositioning coworkers (including pilots) on and off the clock, touching them suggestively while on duty without asking for consent, giving out a coworker’s number to a passenger (again, without asking for consent), stealing from flights, making alarming comments about passengers and/or their children, often where they can hear—”‘I just don’t understand why we’re not allowed to slip a little bit of Benadryl into [whining children’s] juice,’ she says, too loudly.”—Gen has broken just about every code of conduct in the flight attendant rule book.
It’s just as Ava says: “‘It’s a miracle you haven’t been fired yet.'” So miraculous, in fact, that I don’t believe it for a second. Gen is a professional disaster and a huge liability and the raucousness with which she commits transgressions like these makes it impossible to believe her behavior has never gotten back to her airline company—unless we’re operating under the assumption that her airline company is just shitty and negligent all around. This is another one of those things that I’m sure most readers wouldn’t blink twice about, especially because this book is marketed as a romantic comedy, but I have a hard time swallowing unrealistic writing in the contemporary romance genre.
Surprisingly, I found Jack Stone to be the most sympathetic character in the book. He’s written with an empathy that’s hard to ignore and he seems to have endless reserves of patience for all the disastrous characters around him. The funniest moments in the novel come from scenes he features heavily in:
“‘I should go. I have a hot shower and tiny toiletries waiting for me.’ […]
‘That’s adorable,’ Jack says. ‘Do those tiny toiletries make you feel normal-sized?'”The Layover
Though the first half of The Layover falls closer to two stars for me, the second half is where the story really takes off and some of the most breathtaking sequences unravel. Once Alexander exits the picture, Ava and Jack’s romantic development becomes glittering, hard to look away from or put down. Belatedly, I began to root for them and even enjoy Ava’s character as she started to unwind, giving in to her wanderlust. New and colorful characters emerge and the claustrophobic cabin of the airplane transitions into wide open landscapes, glowing caves, aquamarine ecosystems.
While the writing (and dialogue, in particular) is at times overly ambitious—”‘I’m not saying weirdness is sexually transmitted, but until it’s been scientifically proven not to be, my dick is guaranteed to be skittish around the likes of you.'”—there are some beautiful hidden gems to be found inside this novel.
Because I hovered between two and four stars for so long, I’m giving The Layover three, as a way to meet in the middle. For those who aren’t as picky about their romantic comedies, I do recommend picking this up and giving it a shot. It’s a fun debut, the leading love interest is an ideal candidate for a riveting take on enemies to lovers, and the setting makes this the perfect quarantine read—so long as you’re okay with feeling a little cabin fever.