Book: The Geography of You and Me
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Age Range: 12 and up
I loved Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and also enjoyed This Is What Happy Looks Like. Like those two books, The Geography of You and Me is a young adult romance, heavy on character development and light on sappiness. Which is how I like them. Two teens meet in an elevator during a power outage in New York (they've seen each other before, but never spoken). Despite coming from very different backgrounds, they discover a connection over the course of a long, electricity-free evening. Geography is against them, however, as Lucy's family moves almost immediately to Scotland, while Owen ends up driving west with his father. Can such a tenuous connection, nurtured mainly by "Wish you were here" postcards, turn into something real?
I thought that this book was very well done. The socioeconomic differences between Lucy and Owen are there, and cause occasional awkwardness, but are incidental to their sense of connection. Lucy feels isolated from her largely absent parents, while Owen misses his recently deceased mother. Both teens are isolated from other kids, even as they attend school. Lucy is a self-professed "geeky bookworm", constantly on the lookout for a good place to read. Owen is quietly brilliant on the science and math side, but is also computer shy, and not very keen on books or email. They joke about the idea of Herman Melville's Bartleby, a character who responds to everything with "I would prefer not to." Owen eventually names a pet turtle Bartleby.
Although there's a hint of intellectualism to The Geography of You and Me, it's far from over the top. While Lucy's family is clearly well off (leaving their New York apartment vacant for months, in case they want to go back for a visit), Owen is from a blue collar background. His father spends most of the book looking for work, and the two even end up briefly sleeping in their car. I think that Lucy and Owen could hold their own with John Green's characters, but they are less consciously witty.
As for the romance, it felt real to me. Both Owen and Lucy meet other people (the book wouldn't be interesting if it was too easy), but they can't let go of that sense of connection with each other. There's a nice section with short chapters that show them thinking about each other, in parallel, despite being 5000 miles apart. Here are a couple of snippets:
"She wondered if there was a word for loneliness that wasn't quite so general. Because that wasn't it, exactly; it wasn't that she was feeling lonesome or empty or forlorn. It was more particular than that, like the blanket on the root this morning: Here in the kitchen, there was an Owen-shaped indent." (Chapter 5)
"But he couldn't find the words. And so instead, they just stood there, regarding each other silently, the room suddenly as quiet as the elevator had been, as comfortable as the kitchen floor, as remote as the roof. Because that's what happened when you were with someone like that: the world shrank to just the right size. It molded itself to fit only the two of you, and nothing more." (Chapter 8)
Given that the two main characters actually spend most of the book geographically separated, its good that The Geography of You and Me is about more than just the relationship between the two protagonists. Lucy reconnects a bit with her parents, and experiences the travel that she's always longed for. A scene in which she finally visits a city that she has longed to see gave me immense satisfaction as a reader. Owen and his father, meanwhile, are figuring out what their life means without Owen's mother, and what they mean to one another. Parents on both sides are more attuned to what's going on in their teens' lives than said teens realize. It's refreshing to have a book take a good look at parent/teen relationships, without melodrama, rather than focusing on friendships with other kids.
I highly recommend The Geography of You and Me to fans of Jennifer E. Smith's previous novels, and to anyone who enjoys young adult romance (with nothing more PG than a few kisses) and realistic fiction. Because half of the book is told from Owen's perspective, I actually could imagine boys liking this book, though one might have trouble getting them to pick up a book with kissing on the cover. But for teenage girls and adult women, The Geography of You and Me should be an excellent fit.
Publisher: Poppy (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Source of Book: Advanced digital review copy from the publisher
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