Well, turns out the destination is Canada, which isn’t quite the same as anywhere but certainly has enough range to come close.
Sara Barnard sneakily published this novel last year and didn’t tell me! Barnard’s young adult novels are inevitably, heartbreakingly poignant. Her most recent that I had read, Fierce Fragile Hearts, left an indelible mark upon my soul for the way that I, as an aromantic and asexual person, felt seen by Barnard’s careful, honest portrayal of friendship as equal to romantic love. Even now just reading that review from 2019 makes me ache thinking about how much of a revelation that book felt like for me.
So naturally, I was excited to read Destination Anywhere. While it didn’t grab me the same as Fierce Fragile Hearts did, I also didn’t have that expectation. I just wanted a good story with some meaning behind it, and that’s exactly what I got.
Peyton King has no friends. For a brief, shining year in sixth form, she thought she might have found some. That didn’t work out. So now this seventeen-year-old has bought a plane ticket with her dad’s credit card and flown across the world to Vancouver, Canada, where she plans to see the whole country (lol). With no plan and very little concept of how big Canada is, Peyton sets out on her grand adventures, interrupted only by flashback chapters here and there that tell us the story of how we got to now.
In case you all don’t know this about me, my most relevant identity for this review is that I am Canadian. So it was a lot of fun to see Barnard portray my country to her primarily British audience. According to her acknowledgements, she lived in Canada (in British Columbia) for a time, and I’m not surprised. Now, I actually have never been to BC—I live in a big but small town called Thunder Bay, Ontario, which Peyton bypasses on her journey east. But based on my lived experience as a Canadian, I can say that Barnard does a pretty good job at capturing what parts of our country she portrays!
Of course, Peyton isn’t running to Canada so much as away from the mess she perceives to be her life. I love the flashback story structure Barnard uses here. Each chapter unfolds a vignette from Peyton’s past yet leaves us wanting more before pulling us back to the present. Unlike some novels, however, the present-day chapters are just as compelling. Peyton falls in with a good group of older people who shepherd her and act as faithful friends—and maybe a love interest, I’m not telling. It’s sweet and could be saccharine were it not for the realistic way Barnard portrays Peyton’s social anxiety. This trip is not a panacea; the book does not end with everything in Peyton’s life OK again (or perhaps for the first time). And certainly Peyton gets lucky with her group of travelling companions; I wouldn’t recommend this book for another seventeen-year-old with wanderlust because I’m not sure they would be so lucky as Peyton is.
But quite a bit of this book spoke to me despite my adolescence differing greatly from Peyton’s. I had friends in high school and university. That being said, I can identify with Peyton’s disconnection from her friend group and anxiety, later, about making new friends. There is a universality to Barnard’s characterization that means, I suspect, many readers will resonate with at least parts of Peyton’s story, whether it’s the reactions of her parents (and brother) to her sudden trip or Peyton’s subsequent interactions with her former friends. In any event, I was reminded of what I adore so much about Barnard’s novels: the easy pacing, the way that even the more static characters are sketched with such care, and the gentle heartache that emanates from our protagonist.
Destination Anywhere is a book about the pain of growing up, the pain of not being understood, and the fear of not finding your people. It is loud and bold but also subtle and sensitive. I devoured it in two days not just because it’s an easy read but because it kept my attention (and maybe even made me want to see more of my own country). Though far from my favourite of Barnard’s work, I’m happy I took the time to catch up, and I’m very excited for her upcoming novel, Something Certain, Maybe!