Sunday, 28 December 2014

'The Geography of You and Me' by Jennifer E. Smith

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

With this, the book that is probably going to be the last one I finish this year, I thought I'd go for something cute and contemporary, a relieving contrast after the emotional wringer that 'Red Rising' put me through earlier on in the week. This is also the book that has successfully completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year - fifty two books in fifty two weeks finished!

'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 map was as good as a door swinging shut. And the geography of the thing - the geography of them - was completely and hopelessly wrong.'

'The Geography of You and Me' tells the story of Owen and Lucy, two teenagers who meet in an elevator that breaks down during a blackout of the entire of New York, most of the East Coast and some of Canada. Lucy has seen Owen around a lot since his father became the new manager of their apartment building, but she's never had a reason to go over to speak to him, so when they meet in the elevator it's the first time they speak to each other. They quickly bond over their dire situation, and despite the fact that they're trapped in the elevator for nearly an hour it feels like a matter of minutes, and they go on to spend the rest of the night together, exploring New York in the near blackness.
However, life quickly gets in the way, with Owen's father getting fired and their imminent eviction from their basement apartment, and with Lucy and her parents relocating to Edinburgh after her father gets a new job. As they travel across the world in their opposite directions, they both find their thoughts pulled back to the one night that they spent together, and they consider how unfair it is that no matter where your heart lies, sometimes life wants you to go somewhere else.
I didn't think I was going to like 'The Geography of You and Me' as much as I did. Sometimes I find the whole gucky gushy love story hard to enjoy, because it just seems to cliched and unbelievable, but that was something that wasn't really a problem with this novel. Because of how well matched Owen and Lucy seemed on that first night that they spent together, I thought that the coincidental sending of postcards with the exact same message was quite cute, whereas usually I would think it was a bit of a stretch, but Jennifer E. Smith's writing style was cleverly crafted in a way that the events all seemed believable. Further on in the novel, with the mirroring of the events that Lucy and Owen were going through separately, I thought it was written very intelligently; enough differences to have a marked shift between their two voices, but enough similarities so show how two people can be so well suited for each other.
Similarly, I really enjoyed both of their personalities. Owen learning to come to terms with the death of his mother and helping his father on the road was an endearing and heart-warming subplot, while seeing Lucy finally learn to be close to the parents who had been quite distant throughout the start of her life was also enjoyable to read. Their conversations were light and humorous, and I found myself laughing out loud at multiple points, which is something that doesn't happen to me often in contemporaries - sometimes it seems like they're trying too hard to be funny, so it just feels tight and uncomfortable.
I also really appreciated the fact the ending, with the inclusion of the 'Owen wanted to say this: And then we'll be together forever. Or this: And then we'll live happily ever after. But he couldn't', because a lot of the time contemporary novels are really unrealistic about the possibility of the relationship continuing indefinitely, and knowing that Lucy was living in London and Owen was living in Seattle it didn't look like the easiest setup. In some ways it made it feel more realistic that he questioned the longevity of the relationship, because it would be a fear for really couples in that situation, and if it hadn't have been included I would have liked this novel a heck of a lot less.
There weren't many things that I didn't enjoy about the novel, but some of the descriptions of the places Lucy visited were quite limited, so it felt more like listing the main attractions than really getting a feel for how the places affected Lucy emotionally. The chapter based in Prague focussed more upon Lucy interacting with her parents than the country that she was in, and seeing as it was the first time she'd even been in continental Europe I thought I'd learn more about Prague than I did, so I felt a little bit disappointed after that chapter. The chapters that were following Owen across America felt a lot more sketched out, focussing more upon the feel of individual places than the feel of the characters, so I enjoyed those a lot more, but overall the characterisation was a lot better than the setting description, which was the only thing that disappointed me about this novel.
Overall this was one of the better contemporary novels that I've ever read, but it still wasn't as good as I was expecting. I'd definitely still recommend it, because it's a fast read that took me just over a day, and it is quite charming, but if you're looking for something that's really going to evoke emotion I just wouldn't suggest this one. 

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