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The Long Distance Playlist

There is no denying it: long-distance relationships are tough. I know this too well: my partner and I met overseas and began a relationship between Perth, Western Australia, and San Francisco. My best friend lives in New Mexico. Having now moved to Geelong, most of my family and friends are back in Perth. There is always someone somewhere else.

Long-distance relationships are like organisational bootcamp. Want to watch a movie together? Yes? Great! Let’s find what’s accessible on Netflix in both our territories; work out the time differences between where we live; lock in a slot when neither of us are at school/work/waking up/going to sleep/at sport/driving/eating breakfast/eating dinner/generally occupied; and make sure we’re logged on at least fifteen minutes prior to our date because, who knows, maybe the internet drops out. Long-distance relationships have a lot of hey, are you there? going on.

This strained intimacy is what Tara Eglington’s new young adult book, The Long Distance Playlist, captures so well. The story follows fifteen-year-old Isolde, based in Sydney, and her family friend/best friend/long-term crush seventeen-year-old Taylor, based in New Zealand. The plot charts the goings-on of their teenage lives and ambitions: Isolde is a ballet dancer desperate to qualify for the prestigious National Ballet School; Taylor is a rising star in snowboarding. After a fight, breakups with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend, a life-changing accident, and a long period of silence, Isolde and Taylor must find their way back to each other without being able to meet in person. Hence, the playlists.

Taylor begins to compile Spotify playlists to send to Isolde. They communicate through music. Then, they communicate via email. Then Skype and text and Instagram instant messenger. There is even snail mail (gasp!). Eglington crafts a coherent and compelling novel from fragmentary communication; she accurately depicts the way speech changes depending on what medium we use to connect. She concedes that yes, it may be easier these days to get in touch with far-away people given the technology now at our disposal, but it is still not easy, and nothing replaces face-to-face, nothing replaces touch.

My only gripe with The Long Distance Playlist is Eglington’s treatment of the secondary characters: Ana, Isolde’s best friend, and Finn, Taylor’s. For a novel that is as much about friendship as it is about romance, I wanted more reciprocity between the stars and their best friends. I wanted Isolde to ask Ana how she was, for once. What is going on in Ana’s life? Why, when Ana gets together with a boy, and Finn gets together with a girl, do neither of their best friends seem interested, too wrapped up in each other? Being wrapped up in one’s own world, however, is a very teenage condition.

This was my only concern in an otherwise delightful and clever read that I recommend for readers 14+.

Reviewed by Charlotte