Dear My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan:
I apologize in advance for how nostalgic this letter will inevitably be.
When I saw a secondhand copy of you on sale at a bookstore one day I knew I would have to buy you. The blurb on your back cover promised the story of a twenty-something woman, Ella, who spends a year studying English literature at the University of Oxford in England on a Rhodes Scholarship–while also juggling working remotely on an American presidential campaign. Not only does she struggle with figuring out what she is truly passionate about, but there is also a romance that takes her completely by surprise…
How could I resist reading you after reading a blurb like that? I, too, had my own Oxford year–I studied abroad their my entire junior year of college and it was such an eye-opening, incredible, and honestly transforming experience. ( I wrote a bunch of posts about it here.) Oxford is such a magical place, and there’s this strange feeling when you’re only there for a year as someone not from England. A year is long enough to make amazing friendships and experience so many adventures and learn things about yourself and feel nearly settled in this beautiful city–yet at the end of the day, it’s still temporary. Getting on that plane to fly back the United States after my year at Oxford was so, so bittersweet.
My Oxford Year, you did such an incredible job at capturing that emotional, confusing, turbulent feeling of being settled and uprooted and missing two homes at once. You made me feel like I was back walking down the cobblestone streets of Oxford again, and I adored all of your references to specific streets and pubs and shops. You perfectly captured the magic of that city, how enchanting and oddly unreal it feels to call it your home for a whole year. I’ll never forget when my mom visited me and upon turning down my absolute favorite street in Oxford (Holywell) exclaimed, “This feels like a movie set!” It’s so true–Oxford truly does feel like a kind of Hogwarts.
Apart from my nostalgic love for Oxford, I also enjoyed how you were completely different from what I was expecting you to be, but in a great way. I had expected a rather light-hearted, whirlwind romance novel, but you quickly cut to the difficult topics and deep feelings right away. While there were plenty of fun and funny moments–particularly involving dynamics between Ella’s friends–there were so many scenes that moved me and even made me shed a tear or two. You make the reader question what is actually worth prioritizing in life, and wonder how the decisions we make today impact our lives tomorrow.
“It turns out, the act of making a choice, of choosing a path, doesn’t mean the other path disappears. It just means that it will forever run parallel to the one you’re on. It means you have to live with knowing what you gave up. Which isn’t a bad thing; if anything, it only serves to strengthen my resolve.”My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
These thought-provoking reminders are seen most in your romance element, which I won’t go too much into here in order to avoid spoilers. I eagerly and anxiously read as Ella’s romance transformed from one thing into another into another, and marveled at how many layers of complicated emotions Julia Whelan was able to weave into the connection between two characters. You felt very realistic in that way, at least for me–relationships always seem a thousand times more complicated and nuanced than books and movies make them out to be. It was so refreshing to read a romance that didn’t have a clear-cut ending, just as most things in life don’t result in something that’s easy to explain.
Ultimately, Ella realizes that her Oxford year was less about Oxford itself and more about the people she met and the experiences she had there. And I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks for being honest in all of your complexity, My Oxford Year.