Review: Jennifer Coburn’s WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS

A friend of mine has a thing for travel books. She’ll devour them and add about a hundred new places to her travel list.

Within the first few chapters of We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir, I knew she’d like the book.

Jennifer Coburn has a fear of dying young. So when her daughter Katie is eight years old, she takes her to Paris for the first time, determined that her daughter will have a thousand wonderful memories to look back on when she’s gone. Every couple of summers, the pair repeat their travels, through Spain, Italy, and Amsterdam before returning to Paris. In between Katie and Jennifer walking through plazas and piazzas, we get JJ and Shelly and the root of Jennifer’s fear.

See, Shelly is Jennifer’s father, and he passed away when she was in college after a hard-fought battle with lung cancer. He wasn’t old, but he wasn’t all that young, and Jennifer started worrying that the same thing would happen to her. It didn’t matter that Jennifer wasn’t a smoker herself or that she was perfectly healthy. Sometimes fear isn’t rational, and this was one of those times.

Katie strikes me as a remarkably well-mannered and enthusiastic kid. Eager to see everything, glad to be spending time with her mother, and nudging said mother into disrupting her carefully planned schedule just enough that it makes the trip that much more fulfilling. When Jennifer decides for their second trip they’re going to take an entire month to explore rather than the ten days of their first trip, I nodded my head. Yup, that’s gotta be the way to do it. No rushing around and cramming things in, like Americans are wont to do.

The book is stuffed full of funny and quirky bits, like Katie’s need to buy the new Harry Potter book in the train station even though she’d pre-ordered it before the trip and it was waiting at home, or the Americans who thought they were natives and asked for directions on the subway platform. I wanted to sit on the balcony with them in Venice and drink the hot cocoa and enjoy the ballet in the plaza (I really wanted to watch the ballet with them. Outdoor ballet? YES PLEASE.)

You get the sense that the book was a way for Coburn to work through her lingering  feelings over her father’s death. He wasn’t a perfect man, not by any stretch of the imagination, but you can tell there’s real love (and exasperation) between them. Despite his poor health choices, Shelly Coburn struck me as a good man, and a good father, and reading her memories of their adventures together made all the snapshot moments with Katie stand out in Technicolor.

By the end, I had dozens of things I wanted to experience for myself (except climb the Eiffel Tower; no thanks) and Jennifer had gotten a better grasp on her fear. I don’t know that she’s let it go completely – something like that can take years to overcome – but with all those trips and her intrepid companion, she’d learned to let some of it go. We’ll Always Have Paris is a fun and touching picture of a mother and daughter, and a daughter and a father, and all the wonders of the world, wherever they happen to be.

Copy of We’ll Always Have Paris provided by the author in exchange for review.

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