Title: Can’t Say it Went to Plan
Author: Gabrielle Tozer
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Publisher: HarperCollins/Angus and Robertson
Published: 5th May 2021
Synopsis: From the award-winning author of The Intern, Faking It and Remind Me How This Ends.
Forget study, exams and mapping out the future.
For the next seven days, the only homework is partying with friends, making new ones and living in the moment.
There are no parents or curfews – and no rules.
Zoe, Samira and Dahlia are strangers, but they have something in common: their plans for a dream holiday after their final year of school are flipped upside-down before they even arrive at the beach.
From hooking up and heartache, to growing apart, testing friendships and falling in love, anything can go down this week.
Samira, Zoë and Dahlia have finished year twelve – thirteen long years of schooling and are off for a week-long trip to celebrate with their friends, and they all have plans and expectations for how the week is going to go. And yet … as we all know in life, things don’t go to plan. Dahlia and her friends are taking this trip without Stevie, their best friend who died a year ago – so they want to do all the things Stevie never had a chance to do. Samira has planned out every day of the trip for her friends – people she’s only known for a year, and has made an effort to include something for everyone, yet soon, the plan flies out the window. And Zoë has been banned from the trip by her parents at the last minute – but she manages to get there with her cousins, convinced that nothing bad will happen. The three girls are strangers, yet their dream holidays will be turned upside down – something that happens often in life.
Everyone, regardless of their age and background, and identity, can relate to life not going to plan. These plans will always have a spanner chucked in, to keep us on our feet. Like Dahlia, we’ve all lost someone we care about to cancer, suicide and other ways, even if they haven’t died. We’ve all struggled with grief, and these experiences, the trauma and everything that comes with it. Or we’ve all felt the sensation of being displaced and thrust into a new life where we have to make new friends like Samira. In this scenario, when we have to make new friends at any age, it feels daunting – those you meet seem to have their groups set, and it can be hard to get to know new people later in life, but sometimes, there will be something fun that connects you when you least expect it. And like Zoë, we’ve all had those plans for holidays, for various things in life that have gone down the drain in the blink of an eye, often because we can’t control the circumstances. This happened a lot in the past year during the pandemic – we all had plans and expectations for 2020, and we all put them on hold during the bushfires and floods, and then we were hit by a pandemic – which is still going.
The characters in this book might been teens, and the experience they’re going through during their end of school celebration unique to being a teenager in Australia, the personal experiences they go through with their family, their friends and alone are universal. Readers might relate to the grief Dahlia is going through, the pain of losing someone so special to you, that it feels like life will never be the same again. Or maybe they’ve moved somewhere far away and are starting anew like Samira. Or maybe we’re like Zoë and feel like we’re not good enough. Each girl has their own experience to grapple with, tinged with disappointments and highlights, anxieties and worries that come with finishing one stage in life and beginning another.
This book is a rollercoaster of emotions – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll want to cringe or help each girl through everything. It is filled with joy, humour and a big heart that is so Australian – diverse, fun and unapologetically unique in its style and celebration of what it is to be yourself through the lens of Schoolies and finishing school. Do bad things happen? Yes, but at the same time, beautiful things happen. Wonderful things that celebrate life, individuality and friendship – and these are the powerful themes for me. The celebration of being yourself, of making friends, and the celebration of the Australian spirit of helping those you don’t know, and the acceptance we all seek that comes from those we least expect – those we meet by chance at times, who hear your story and decide to help. I adored this book – I could see aspects of myself in all the characters from when I was younger, and aspects of their experiences that I’ve dealt with over the past twenty years or so. Even though these three girls didn’t get to know each other, I feel like at some point, in their future, they might run into each other and recall the bizarre, unplanned, fun week they had celebrating the end of school.
Another thing I loved was the COVID-free environment. At times, there was a sense of wondering where the hand sanitiser was, yet it was also refreshing to escape from the uncertainty of a COVID world, where outbreaks are still happening in some places, and we still need to be careful. In this timeline, COVID doesn’t exist, and it allows readers to escape the realities of a very uncertain world. Even though Dahlia, Samira and Zoë face uncertainty, they still have some idea of what is coming next for them, which is contrasted by the constant upheaval of plans throughout the novel.
This is a wonderful young adult novel that captures so much of what it is like to be on the cusp of adulthood after finishing school whilst touching on universal themes and experiences that anyone can relate to and take something from this novel about how to deal with the unexpected events in life – good and bad. This beautiful book celebrates what it is to be human and living in an uncertain world, and was so eloquently written that everything was vibrant and fun, and captured the experience of being young and carefree. This is a book for teens and those looking to understand the uncertainty in our lives – something that I feel adult fiction doesn’t always touch on, given the idea that adults are meant to have everything together. Uncertainty can hit us at any age, and this book encapsulates that perfectly.