Joy has just moved from California to Utah; for a devout Mormon teenager, her social potential has multiplied exponentially, but the conformity is crushing. As she says, “Even now that I live in a town where it’s hard to tell where belief ends and culture begins—I don’t like the culture, but I do like the belief.” This may explain why she finds Zan so compelling. Staunchly individual, gorgeous and quirky, Zan seemed to care for Joy too, but their brief romance blew up when he quickly got his GED and transferred to a California college a year early. Now Joy is deflated, devastated and irritated by Zan’s ex-friend Noah, who keeps trying to help her. Needing closure, and lacking a ride, she persuades Noah to take her on a road trip to Zan’s school, a situation she saw in a prophetic dream, so it has to be a good idea, right?
Back When You Were Easier to Love tells this story in jump-cuts and flashbacks, letting events unfold like a mystery. Were Joy’s friends right to dismiss Zan, or was he really all that? Might there be someone better for her in her midst, who shares her beliefs and eschews mocha java for the virtues of Sprite? Author Emily Wing Smith may indulge Joy’s pining for her lost love a bit too long, and while she represents Mormon culture thoughtfully, other groups sometimes read as stereotypical, like the “cardboard cutouts” Zan gripes about. But this novel has far too much charm to be undone by these minor quibbles. After all, how many books in recent memory have featured personal revelations taking place while in the presence of a Barry Manilow impersonator? Get yourself a decaf caramel steamer and settle in for a good time.