I can get caught up in nostalgia with the best of them. Those simple days of watching a new episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers after school, playing with my Skip-It, and never having to worry about Twitter trolls or Instagram likes loom large in mind as "the good old days." We all have those memories we hold preserved in amber — the times in our lives that we can only see the golden aspects of. That's why I relate so much to Charlie Grant, the heroine in Morgan Matson's new book Save the Date, who is about as nostalgic a person as you can be. The book opens on the weekend of Charlie's sister Linnie's wedding. All of the Grant siblings are coming home for the ceremony and Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend together before her parents sell their house, before she goes to college, and everything changes.
And Charlie does mean perfect. From the very beginning of the novel, we know that Charlie holds all of her siblings and her parents on the highest of pedestals. All of her memories of her family, from hang-outs in the kitchen, to games in the backyard and even a year of street sign-specific vandalism are flawlessly happy. Her older brother Danny is her infallible idol and her parents are an example of the ideal marriage. Oh, and her mother's world-famous comic strip, Grant Central Station, has captured only all of the biggest, funniest and best moments in the family's life. No one else in the world matter more to Charlie than her family, not even her best friend, Siobhan... though she can't help but obsess over her one-time hook-up with her long-time crush, Jesse.
But of course, nothing quite goes to plan, and "perfect" becomes an almost laughable goal.
While dealing with a faulty alarm system, a missing tuxedo, a neighbor bent on destruction, an estranged brother, and more, Charlie soon discovers that she might not know her family — or herself — as well as she thought she did — and that her desire to hold on to her past is negatively affecting her future. Without giving too much of the plot away, Matson's exploration of false nostalgia as both a safety net and a hinderance is one of the most relatable, and revelatory, takes I've read in a YA rom-com in a while.
Because there is a dark side to nostalgia. It often comes attached to a false idea that things were always perfect before, and it's one that I think we don't talk about often enough: dwelling on the past prevents you from living in the present, and looking at the past with rose-colored glasses on means that your perceived future can never be as good. This sort of false nostalgia can be one of the most limiting mindsets one can adopt. Charlie begins to realize this on a night of particular upheaval — yes, even more upheaval than a ruined wedding cake and a visit from the cops — and realizes that the life she has lived in her mind, and the "compilation of everything" she'd projected on to the people around has been almost entirely imagined.
It's a sobering, necessary thought, tucked into the cinema-worthy rom-com of your summer reading dreams. If you're looking for the perfect book to gift to the high school or college grad in your life, Matson has written it for you.