Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith

* * * 1/2

From Simon & Schuster:

Emma and Peter are alike in a lot of ways. They are both lonely in a way that they really only mind once in a while. They both come from families that they don't quite understand. And they both feel like something big is missing from their lives. So this summer they are off to find something. For Emma, it is a grave, a grave that may be her only connection to her family. For Peter it is harder to define, but perhaps easier to navigate. It is a freedom, a sense of something more than what he has now. So off they go, searching for what we all search for; something to make sense of who they are where they come from.

If you are looking to read something at a relaxed pace then this is the book for you.

Emma Healey comes from a family of intellectuals that leaves her feeling so completely ordinary.  One day she accidentally discovers a birth certificate for her twin brother followed by a death certificate dated 2 days later.  In an instant, it all makes sense to her why she’s felt like the odd man out.  Now she’s determined to visit her brother’s grave to feel a connection to something, to someone. 

Peter Finnegan is the neighbor who has always wanted to be a part of Emma’s family.  Her parents have always welcomed him as one of their own which is in stark contrast to his relationship with his widower father.  Peter’s penchant for maps of all kinds and his aversion to anything sports-related only widens the distance between them.  Feeling stifled and misunderstood he dreams of leaving town and exploring the world with his maps in tow.

The opportunity comes when Emma calls him out of the blue to rescue her after her car breaks down on her way to North Carolina to visit her brother’s grave.  She invites Peter to join her and he seizes the chance to tag along.  The two sit comfortably in silence, lost in their own thoughts.  Peter never questions why Emma's motivation for going to North Carolina and Emma indulges Peter’s fascination with visiting all the old battlefields during their journey. 

Once they begin to open up, each one offers the other a perspective they haven’t considered in regards to their own circumstances.  Peter who feels his father has never understood him wishes that his dad would share memories of his mother with him.  Instead his father finds fault with his need to escape from their life and go to college elsewhere.  Emma tries to convince him that his dad loves him in his own way, “The thing about parents is that you always just assume they’re supposed to be good at their jobs, because they’re parents.  But they’re usually not.”  Being a parent myself, that sentiment resonated with me. 

Meanwhile, Emma feels betrayed that no one has ever told her about her dead twin brother.  She has felt that there was a missing piece all this time and blames her family for it.  Peter calls her on this pointing out that there have been plenty of times where she has enjoyed the advantages of being “different" from her siblings and parents.  As the journey moves forward, Emma learns more about her family and the impact her brother's death had on them.  There's a very moving scene with Emma and her older sister, Annie that narrows the gap between them.  

I really enjoyed reading about Emma and Peter - Peter especially.  He's so uniquely introspective that it's hard to imagine what Emma would have been like making the road trip on her own.  He helps draw her out of her shell.  Both of them come to some self-realization about their own flaws and mature into wise young individuals.  They gain a new understanding of the people they love most and know that despite what they had believed before, they are certainly not alone.  

- Bel

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