I’m an unabashed fan of Jennifer E. Smith. I say unabashed because she doesn’t write what I typically read, and sometimes when I read things outside of my norm, I feel like I have to justify them. Luckily for me, these books can stand on their own two feet.
First and foremost, the author is actually an editor, meaning her writing is tight, clean, lyrical, concise, and I have yet to find a grammatical or punctuation error in any of her books. I think I need to add her to my list of literary people I’d like to meet, because she’s clearly both a writing and editing rock star (and surprisingly enough, that’s probably not the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said). That aside, hopefully you can now understand at least once piece of what draws me to her work: in short, they’re well-written.
Second, they’re the best kind of contemporary YA romance. When I say “best,” I mean that they’re less concerned with a love triangle, or my-best-friend-saw-him-first drama, or other (what I think of as) fluff, and instead get to the heart of the stories and the personality of the characters right from the beginning, and carry that all the way through. There’s always something else going on in the character’s lives, but it’s realistic and it’s meaningful and it’s character developing in a way that’s relevant to readers for their lives today. (This coming from the woman who enjoys reading paranormal fiction, so listen up.) These books are perfect for recommending to people looking for a more substantial alternative to something like the Gossip Girls series (take note, parents, teachers, & librarians).
Third, while they have an uplifting and resolved ending, they also stay true to reality in that they don’t promise a “happily ever after”. The immediate issues in the books – namely first love and communication across distances and often grief – are handled by the end, but there is still uncertainty in the future, just over the horizon, as there should be in everyone’s, but particularly teenage, lives. While I think happy endings have a time and a place (insert raunchy joke here), I particularly enjoy reading a book where the author hasn’t placated to that expectation. I think it allows the reader to stay with the characters long after the book is over, imagining what that future might look like.
Also, and this is entirely on a personal note, but her writing reminds me of David Levithan‘s writing, and as I hold his work above almost all others’, that’s saying something.
And now, on to the actual book.
The Geography of You and Me
Jennifer E. Smith
9780316254779, Hardcover, Hachette Book Group, $18
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.
As with a lot of Jennifer E. Smith’s books, this book is about the publisher description and so much more as we get to know these particular characters. Yes, Lucy moves to Edinburgh with her parents, but what this doesn’t tell you is that Lucy’s parents are frequent world travelers, leaving Lucy at home in their New York City apartment, and Lucy wants nothing more than to go somewhere. It also doesn’t tell you that Owen and his father are reeling with grief, adding a different kind of weight to their decisions and interactions. Owen is determined to travel everywhere, and his trip out west mimics a trip Owen’s mother and father took during the first two years of their marriage. As the story unfolds, it becomes a meditation on what “home” means, on communication in the 21st century, and on interpreting the ways different people make you feel when you’re with them and when you’re not. Also, the author has Lucy read a different book that is about or of or from the places she goes (Catcher in the Rye in NYC, Julius Ceaser in Rome, etc.), and I love that idea.
And now for my favorite part – book quotes. These are lines that struck me as I was reading, and I hope they give you a sense of what I like about both her writing and her storytelling.
…and Lucy, the youngest, tucked in a corner, always trailing behind the rest of the family like an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. (pg. 12)
Theirs was a relationship built on neutral ground and impartial geography… (pg. 31)
“There’s a difference between loneliness and solitude.” (pg. 45)
They were like a couple of asteroids that had collided, she and Owen, briefly sparking before ricocheting off again, a little chipped, maybe even a little scarred, but with miles and miles still to go. (pg. 139)
…in neither of those two conversations did she mention the two names that would have told the real story. (pg. 193)
And she realized that whatever else he’d done, he’d recalibrated her; because even though it had all gone horribly wrong, and even though she might never see him again, might never even speak to him, she understood something about wanting now. (pg. 199)
…it struck her as the truest form of kindness, the most basic sort of love: to be worried about the one who was worrying about you. (pg. 278)
…nine months ago, he’d met a girl in an elevator, and she’d been on his mind ever since. (pg. 317)
He was like one of her novels, still unfinished and best understood in the right place and at the right time. (pg. 330)
You can read an excerpt on Goodreads.
More books by this author (they’re not a series, per se, but are different stories in a similar vein).