Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer Smith

One September day before the start of school, the power in New York City and throughout the eastern seaboard of the United States goes out. Moments before, Lucy Patterson had just made the elevator, pushing the door open to rush inside. When the elevator comes to a grinding halt, Lucy and the new boy, who'd only moved into the basement apartment a month ago with his father, the new superintendent, are left completely in the dark. They do not know how extensive the blackout is, believing it is only a problem in their building.

As they wait to be rescued, Lucy learns the boy's name is Owen Buckley and that he's not taken a liking to New York. Owen and his father moved to New York after the death of his mother. Her death made living in their home in Pennsylvania too painful and after being out of work for a year, as a contractor, Owen's father was given a job as the building superintendent in New York.

Both teens are on their own; Owen's father has gone out to Brooklyn on a personal errand and Lucy's parents are away in London, England. Lucy and Owen bide their time in the dark elevator, talking about life in New York City and how they view the city in a different way, she a native New Yorker, he a newcomer.

Eventually, they are rescued from the elevator, only to discover that the entire city and seaboard is without power. Initially, Owen and Lucy go their separate ways but Owen reconsiders and follows her up to her apartment, 24D. They get a flashlight and go down to the street to find water and ice cream. Since Owen has a key to the roof of their building, he and Lucy decide to spend the night up there. Owen learns that Lucy is often left alone by her parents who seem to be always traveling to "amazing places". Her father works for a British bank and they travel frequently. They always send Lucy a postcard from whatever city they are visiting.  Owen notes that Lucy seems sad about her parent's absence and they joke about how postcards always say "Wish you were here." when really if people did feel that way, they would have invited the person along. They spend the night talking about family, travel and life in general.

When morning comes, Lucy finds herself alone on the roof. Owen meanwhile has gone back to the apartment worried about his father, who was stuck in Brooklyn the previous day.  He finds his father in the apartment lobby suffering from heat exhaustion after having walked all the way home and spends the next day taking care of him. Because of his father's absence, the apartment building which is owned by his father's second cousin, Sam Coleman, was not taken care of properly during the blackout. Coleman warns Owen that if his father doesn't do his job he will lose it. Which is exactly what happens. As a result, Owen and his father set out on a journey that takes them across America. His father is in search of both a job and an escape from the memories of his wife.

Lucy searches for Owen but doesn't find him. When the blackout ends, her parents contact her and book her a flight to London. When she arrives, Lucy learns that her father is trying for a job at a bank in London and that they will not be moving back to New York. While in London, Lucy sends Owen a postcard with "Wishing You Were Here" embossed on the front and writing "I actually do." on the back. Owen in New York, also sends Lucy the same kind of postcard with the same message.

A few weeks later they both meet up unexpectedly in New York. Both Lucy and Owen reveal to one another that they will be leaving New York City - Lucy to London, and Owen to wherever his father can find a new job. Although they promise to keep in touch via postcards, Owen and Lucy must decide whether their relationship is something that will survive the turmoil of the next year.

The Geography of You and Me chronicles Lucy and Owen's attempts to continue their relationship against the backdrop of the enormous changes both of their families experience throughout the coming year. Readers will love the romantic tension Jennifer Smith creates throughout the novel and the somewhat inconclusive but realistic ending. It would be interesting to meet Lucy and Owen five years into the future to see how their lives and their relationship have unfolded.

Smith tells Owen and Lucy's stories in alternating narratives, which often include parallel actions and thoughts in both characters lives even though they are separated by geography and time. This tends to lend a sense of destiny to their relationship which is rather endearing and romantic.Owen's narrative focuses on how he and his father try to come to terms with the loss of their mother/wife. I wondered how realistic it was for Owen to have missed most of his senior year yet still be able to graduate and get accepted at six colleges. Lucy's narrative deals more with her life changing from that of an outsider in New York, to finding her niche in a new place. "In New York, she'd stood apart, and in Edinburgh, she'd stood out; but here, she just stood alongside everyone else, and there was comfort in that, in fitting in for once."

If this novel has one weakness, it's that Smith fails to convey to her readers the chemistry that Lucy and Owen seem to feel towards each other. Their initial meeting doesn't really provide readers with an understanding of why these two people are attracted to each other - other than maybe both are lonely. After their third disastrous meeting, it seems like all is over. Yet something in both Owen and Lucy leads them to break off with their current partner, in the hope of rediscovering what attracts them to one another. Unfortunately, it's all a bit of a mystery that is never quite revealed to the reader and that even the characters themselves don't quite understand. Perhaps that is what is so baffling about love.

Those who enjoy a light, contemporary romance will want to read The Geography of You and Me. Jennifer E. Smith has a masters in creative writing and is the author of several popular young adult novels including This Is What Happy Looks Like.

Book Details:
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer Smith
New York: Little, Brown and Company    2014
337 pp.

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