Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Geography of You and Me" by Jennifer E. Smith

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Lucy and Owen meet cute—they're stuck in their apartment building elevator, between floors, during a citywide blackout. Lucy lives on the 24th floor, and has lived in New York City for as long as she can remember, while Owen is the son of the new building superintendent, and lives in the basement. Lucy loves all that the city has to offer, while Owen would rather be anyplace else. Yet they feel a connection between them, and when they are rescued from the elevator, they spend the rest of the night wandering the crowded streets and sleeping on the roof—the place where Owen feels most relaxed—and staring at the stars.

But all in the course of teenage romance never runs smoothly. Both Lucy and Owen have abandonment issues—Lucy's parents are always jetting off to someplace exotic, leaving her and her older brothers alone. And Owen and his father are struggling to recover from a tragedy that has rocked their lives. After their one night together, Owen and Lucy feel incapable of trying to recapture the magic of that evening, and before long, Owen moves away with his father, and Lucy moves to Edinburgh with her parents.

Since they barely knew each other in the first place, why do they feel so torn, between the excitement of a new place and longing for the place they left? Communication between the two is infrequent—although it raises both of their spirits when it happens. It isn't long before both have embarked on new lives, separated by more than simply geographic distance. And although neither can describe why they're still drawn to each other, they also can't describe why they can't seem to connect in the right way, and then their lives continue taking them far from one another.

"If you were to draw a map of the two of them, of where they started out and where they would both end up, the lines would be shooting away from each other like magnets spun around on their poles. And it occurred to Owen that there was something deeply flawed about this, that there should be circles or angles or turns, anything that might make it possible for the two lines to meet again. Instead, they were both headed in the exact opposite directions."

The Geography of You and Me is a tremendously engaging, sweet, enjoyable book about the struggle between one's head and one's heart, the struggle to do what you know you should do versus what you want to do. It's a book about the walls we put up to keep the hurt out, and how we don't always realize those walls keep the happiness out as well. And it's a book about overcoming the challenges of distance—in miles, in communication, in desire.

Those of you who have read my reviews before know I'm a bit of a sap, but I was moved by this book, and really enjoyed it. I know some of its emotional tug came from my residual grief over the recent loss of my dad, but I still felt the story touch my heart, even though I had a feeling I knew how it would resolve itself. Jennifer E. Smith did a great job creating these characters and their story, and while at times I wanted to shake them both, just to make them tell the other how they truly felt, I know that this type of silence is more common than those who are completely verbose about their feelings.

If you're a sap like me, or just like sweet love stories, give this a try. And maybe next time you get in an elevator you'll look around at who you're riding with...

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