Release Date: April 15, 2014
Lucy 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.(courtesy of Goodreads)
There are relatively few authors who consistently manage to write solid contemporary YA fiction. Jennifer E. Smith is in a rare category. Her first book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was so good, so unique that she became an auto-read author for me. The Geography of You and Me is not quite as good as her first novel, but it is still far better than most contemporary YA.
I didn't read the synopsis carefully so I assumed that the entire book took place during the New York black-out. It doesn't. The black-out is the first quarter or third of the novel, but time passes after that. The book takes place over the course of a year. I'm glad Smith chose to have a longer time frame. The 24 hour time worked really well in Statistical Probability but is such a novel technique that it would be hard to get it right twice. With the longer time frame, we have the ability to get to know Lucy and Owen better as well as their families.
In a single evening, Lucy and Owen form a connection that lasts over time and across the world. This sounds like the worst kind of insta-love, but it's not at all. Something clicked between the two of them that night. There were no fireworks, no protestations of everlasting love. Just a feeling that lingered so strongly, it compelled Lucy and Owen to keep in touch.
Randomly, Lucy and Owen's initial meeting reminds me of a quote from You've Got Mail shortly before Frank and Kathleen break up. He's interviewed by a journalist who clearly fancies him, although nothing's happened between them. Frank tells Kathleen, "Well, I think there's-- There's, uh, something there." (not the most romantic thing to say to your girlfriend about another woman).
Lucy and Owen both leave New York shortly after the black-out. After that, it's like two separate books. They keep in touch vaguely, but their stories only occasionally overlap. Lucy moves with her parents to Edinburgh. Owen travels with his father across the country trying to find work and a place to settle.
I adored reading about all the cities where Lucy and Owen went to. Especially Edinburgh for Lucy. I spent two weeks there in 2001 and adored the city. I also enjoyed reading about Owen's time in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, two areas that I also know well. I'd spent a significant amount of time in almost every place the characters went, so this book put me on a nostalgia high. If you like armchair travel, this is the book for you.
Lucy and Owen are rather non-descript characters. That's not necessarily a bad thing. They are normal teenagers. Lucy is quiet and bookish, not the kind of person who has a lot of friends. She gets out of her shell when she moves to Scotland but she is still reserved. Owen would be a funny, gregarious guy, but he is mourning the recent death of his mother. He essentially travels around with a personal stormcloud over his head. Plus, he and his dad are barely scraping by, which makes Owen grow up much faster than he would otherwise.
To my surprise, Owen's father and Lucy's parents are significant characters in this book. Owen has a wonderful relationship with his father. They've bonded together in their mutual grief over his mother's death as well as their poverty. Owen's father wants to give his son a happy life. In turn, Owen is willing to sacrifice many things to make his dad's life better. It's an unusually mature relationship.
Lucy's parents at first come off as cardboard villains. When the book begins, they've gone off to Europe on holiday leaving Lucy alone at home. They apparently do this often. I expected them to be these horribly neglectful caricatures, but they weren't. They clearly loved Lucy and she loved them. It's like they wanted to have a strong relationship but didn't know quite how to do it. I enjoyed seeing how Lucy's relationship with her parents shifted over the course of the book.
For a book that is ostensibly a romance, there is very little romance of the kissing and protestations of eternal love variety. At least not between Owen and Lucy. Oddly this worked. Their postcards or emails or meetings were rare, but felt all the more poignant. Another You've Got Mail quote comes to mind that describes how I felt reading this book:
"The odd thing about this form of communication is that you're more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just wanted to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many... somethings."
The Geography of You and Me is a hard book to write a review of. It wasn't the fastest paced novel I've read or the funniest or the saddest or the most romantic. And yet there was something about it that felt right. That made me happy. There's not much more that to look for in a book than that.
Rating: 4 / 5
Here's How to Buy the Book!