I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on April 15, 2014
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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.
Jennifer E. Smith writes books with intriguing synopses. Once upon a time, I was dying to read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. I preordered a hardcover copy because I just knew I’d love it…and I found myself very disappointing. I liked the plot, but the characters, pacing, and romance fell flat for me. But I was more than willing to give Smith a second chance with The Geography of You and Me. Again, loved the synopsis and the matchy cover art (I’m kind of a sucker for adorable matching series, like with Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and…you get it). Unfortunately, this book has assured that I probably won’t pick up another by Smith. The Geography of You and Me is a pleasant enough read, but it’s not for me.
Lucy and Owen meet one fateful day when they get stuck in an elevator together. Turns out, NYC and a majority of the Northeast are experiencing a never-before-heard-of blackout. Upon finally being rescued, the two spend a romantic/bonding day and night together, brought together by the most improbably circumstances. After power is restored, they don’t really see each other again until they’re both, coincidentally, about to move to opposite ends of the earth (Owen=west coast, Lucy=Edinburgh, Scotland). But something happened that mystical night of the blackout and neither of them can fathom moving on with their lives without staying in touch. Lucy has always collected lame “Wish You Were Here!” postcards from her parents, so the two make a joke out of the cards and keep in touch this way, seeing as Owen doesn’t text, use Facebook, or use email.
So that sounds kind of cute, right? But the pacing is all off. The blackout takes up a large chunk of the book’s beginning, when it really only spans a day or two. I guess the point of this lengthy interaction is so that we really get to know Owen and Lucy, to see them together and root for them. The problem is, they don’t really get to know each other all that well and, as a result, we don’t get to know them that well. They spend all this time together…but still end up too afraid to talk to each other the next day. Or the next. Or the next. To each other, they still kind of feel like uncomfortable strangers who shared a big moment. But then at the idea they might be separated–well, how could they ever live without each other?
I immensely preferred the parts of the book where Lucy and Owen aren’t together. I looooved reading about each of their various travels. Edinburgh and Lake Tahoe, specifically, sounded amazing and I was so jealous of their experiences. And I liked watching these two characters move on because really, why shouldn’t they? Of course, they’re inevitably drawn back together, which doesn’t really make sense to me as they were off enjoying their own separate lives and they barely know each other/communicate, but apparently Smith was determined to make this happen. I have a hard time believing they were both so stuck on each other after being separated by so many miles. And I don’t think I’m being cynical here, as I’m kind of a hopeless romantic. I think this relationship just makes no sense.
If we ignore the love story (i.e. the main point of the book), Owen is actually a decent character. He’s hardworking, selfless, and he grows and changes a lot in the time the book covers. I liked his storyline and would probably read a book just about him. Lucy, on the other hand, is…nice. Forgettable. I can’t really think of her defining characteristics other than…American. Her brothers seem fun, though they don’t really make an appearance. This book’s saving grace is that Jennifer E. Smith is a great writer. Her sentences are beautifully poetic and her imagery is drool-worthy. The sentences flow from one to the next so that you’ll find yourself quickly flipping pages until you’ve suddenly read half the book. If only she gave me characters I believed in, this might a five-star read. As it stands, unfortunately, this book might have turned me off Contemps for the time-being. But it did leave me aching to travel…or at least read some books with fun settings. Perhaps a reread of Anna and the French Kiss? But I know a lot of people love Jennifer E. Smith, and for those that are already fans, this is sure to be a satisfactory read.