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Jennifer E. Smith

REVIEW:  The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

REVIEW: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E....

GeographyofyouandmeLucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. It can be a person, too.

Dear Ms. Smith,

I was quite charmed by the blurb and there was something about the title that piqued my interest, so I requested this book for review.  I had hoped it would be an epistolary book – something for which I have much love.  I hoped to see the postcards, text messages, letters and emails they exchanged when they were in different places.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I can’t really say how much that informed my overall opinion of the book, but I know it didn’t help.

While I understood from the blurb that Owen and Lucy would spend a lot of the book apart, I had hoped to see their connection grow via postcards and other communications.  Instead, the story seemed to me more about the individual growth of each character, with a dash of romance thrown in.  It has a hopeful happy ending and there are parts of the story that are very romantic, but… it didn’t quite scratch my itch.

Perhaps the fault is mine – I have little experience reading YA and my main interest is romance (if it’s a YA romance, that’s fine but I know that YA is a far wider category and romance is a subset of it).

Owen’s mother died and he and his dad are trying to put the pieces of their lives back together and, during the course of the book, slowly, they do.

Sometimes it seemed as if his whole life was an exercise in waiting; not waiting to leave, exactly, but simply waiting to go. He felt like one of those fish that had the capacity to grow in unimaginable ways if only the tank were big enough. But his tank had always been small, and as much as he loved his home—as much as he loved his family—he’d always felt himself bumping up against the edges of his own life.

Lucy is, not exactly estranged from her parents, but they seem to live quite separate lives – little satellites not really connecting.  Lucy longs for that connection and over the course of the book, slowly, this grows between her and her parents.

The coming of age aspects of the story were moving and I think if I had approached this book as that kind of story, it would have worked better for me.  (Let’s leave aside that if that were the case, I probably wouldn’t have approached it at all because I’m primarily a romance reader.)

I enjoyed the word pictures created for me – like here, where Lucy is considering the elevator where she first speaks to Owen:

And how many times had they all been stuffed in here together? Dad, with his newspaper folded under his arm, always standing near the door, ready to bolt; Mom, wearing a thin smile, seesawing between amusement and impatience with the rest of them; the twins, grinning as they elbowed each other; and Lucy, the youngest, tucked in a corner, always trailing behind the rest of the family like an ellipsis at the end of a sentence.

There was some beautiful writing in the book.  Some of it seemed… lightly written but heavy with meaning and portent.  I found it wasn’t a book to skim – it felt a disservice to the prose to do so.  I felt the need to read more slowly and let my mind roll over the words and their various meanings. There was a kind of spare beauty to much of it.

“What do you want to see most?”

“Notre Dame,” she said without hesitation.

“Why?” he asked, expecting to hear something about the architecture or the history or at least the gargoyles, but he was wrong.

“Because,” she said. “It’s the very center of Paris.”

“It is?”

She nodded. “There’s a little plaque with a star in front of it that marks the spot: Point Zero. And if you jump on it and make a wish, it means you’ll get a chance to go back there again someday. There’s something kind of magical about that, don’t you think?”

“It’d be nice if every place came with that kind of guarantee.” He leaned over to draw an X between them with the piece of gravel, then rubbed it out with the heel of his hand and replaced it with a crooked star.

“Does that mean we’re in the exact center of New York?” she asked, nodding at it, and he felt momentarily unsteady beneath her gaze.

“I think,” he said quietly, “that we’re in the exact center of the whole world.”

I find the book hard to grade because as a romance, it didn’t deliver what I was hoping for, but at the same time, what it did deliver wasn’t bad by any stretch.  I ended the read feeling vaguely melancholy and unsatisfied.  The other aspects of the story were meaningful, important and well written but there was something that kept me distanced from the prose. It may have been a function of the style which was episodic -  more like little glimpses into what each character was doing and feeling. I didn’t find it immersive and I couldn’t just relax into it like I wanted to.  In the end, it was a book I admired but did not love.

I think, if one approaches this as a YA coming of age book with a gentle romance arc to it, it would probably be a B/B- but for me, with my expectations and my distance, I ended up at a C+.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

REVIEW: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by...

Dear Ms. Smith:

I wanted to read this book but waited until it was out of hardcover (the price was too rich for me in hardcover). While I liked the voice, my problem with this book was the same as many other reviewers’ problem with this book.  We spent 80% of the book listening to the resentful (and righteously so) thoughts of Hadley  about her cheating father and 20% recovering from it.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight Jennifer E. SmithMaybe Hadley had a year to come to grips with the fact that after 17 odd years, Hadley’s father fell in love with another, much younger woman, while lecturing at Oxford but the reader has only about three chapters.  We experience her sense of loss, her mother’s depression and heartbreak, and her father’s physical abandonment for most of the story and then it seems that all she needed to do was be welcomed into the bosom of her step-mother’s family and all was well.  To say that the switch was abrupt is like saying there is a large body of water between the Eastern shoreboard of the U.S. and London.

The palette is supposed to cleansed, or at least eased, by the fact that Hadley’s mother is in a new relationship.  It’s details like that and the secret messages in the Dickens book her father gives her with passages underlined in pen that give the story a manufactured feel, not to mention Oliver’s existence.   I felt hostile to the conclusion even though I think I was supposed to be charmed.

Hadley arrives at the departure gate 4 minutes too late for her flight to London where she will attend the wedding of her father to this younger woman he fell in love with.  The next flight out is 3 hours later and places her in a seat next to a cute, tall British boy Oliver, who by his garment bag reveals he is going to London for an event as well.

The question of the book was about love but I never felt that it was interested in the ends of love, only the beginning.  Hadley and Oliver on the plane. Her father’s new love with Charlotte.  Her mother’s new love with the dentist.  There’s no permanency in any of the relationships depicted on the page.  Love is ephemeral, seems to be the unintentional message and while the book is supposed to be hopeful in a sort of love springs anew, I felt depressed at the end of it.

Hadley’s hurt at her father leaving her mother, leaving them goes unaddressed. His only answer is that he fell in love.  But he still loves her mother and still loves her.  Hadley’s forgiveness of him is because she thinks he looks right with his new bride?  It just doesn’t ring authentically to me.  In the chase for an uplifting ending, this book actually overreaches and heads the opposite direction.

The romance with Oliver is a throwaway. It’s superfluous and adds almost nothing to the story.  This is a story of Hadley forgiving her father rather than a lovely young adult romance.  I wasn’t sure what new understandings Hadley reached at the conclusion of the book.  Was it that love happens quickly but then fades just as quickly? That life is too short to be with people that you don’t love or that it is too short to hate people that you love?  Or was it just that I was to experience Hadley’s journey on the plane where she remembers her mother’s loss, her loss, and a couple memories of her dad being kind?  Hadley, that tingly feeling you got when you met Oliver? Those were endorphins and that feeling never lasts. Ask your dad.  C

Best regards,

Jane

 

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