Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

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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.

Ever have a random encounter with someone, hitting it off so well that when it comes time to part ways, it’s all awkward and you don’t know if it’s weird to want to stay in touch? That’s what the sweet, funny and enchanting, The Geography of You and Me is about.

In this instance, the chance encounter is in an elevator that's stuck between floors during a blackout, and our two heroes, Lucy and Owen instead of being petrified by the ordeal, find the situation rather comical. The two are kind of misfits but not in a negative way. Each is going through something – Owen and his dad are working through their grief after losing his mother. Lucy’s family dynamics are peculiar. Her older brothers are away at college and her parents travel all over Europe and never take her along. She’s left to her own devices.

What struck me was how self-reliant both of them are. They’re not perturbed by the blackout and make the best of it. When Lucy has to move, she does it gracefully and takes to her new surroundings nicely. Owen too, handles the almost nomadic way of life he and his dad explore as his dad attempts to look for jobs. But no matter where they end up in the world, their center remains that rooftop in New York. Somehow, despite being miles apart and on different continents, these two have taken up residence in each other’s consciousness.

There are so many lovely touches throughout the book such as the postcards. I mean, I now look at them differently. In a world reliant on texting and instant messaging, their one-line communication via postcards is such an endearing and personal gesture. I also admire the many quotes that I either copied down or marked throughout the story. They’re simple but speak volumes. Here are three of my favourites:

One of them is at the beginning of the book when Owen and Lucy are sharing ideas about where they’d like to travel to. This sets up the rest of the story marvelously.

“Sometimes it seemed as if his whole life was an exercise in waiting; not waiting to leave, exactly, but simply waiting to go.” (p.46)

I guess it's stuck with me because it’s such a positive thought as opposed to a get-me-the-heck-out-of-here mentality.

This next one, where Lucy ruminates on the night of the blackout, is perhaps my favourite quote because of the beautiful imagery in action:

“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. How long could a single night really be expected to last? How far could you stretch such a small collection of minutes?  (p.139) 

And finally, during a conversation between Lucy and her mother, her mother brings up a very good point about why she’s never gotten to travel with her parents. I think that it also sums up the stalled state of her relationship with Owen as they begin to think about what exactly their relationship is.

“You can’t know the answer until you ask the question.”  (p.253)

Okay, I won’t give any more away so instead, I’ll just encourage you once again to read The Geography of You and Me. I enjoyed how the story progressed and how their POVs paralleled each other’s. I take away from this the heartwarming message that it's not just a place but a person too, that can be the center that you return to. This thought gives me warm fuzzies and I can see myself returning to this book again.

~ Bel

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