Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith (2014)

I have always enjoyed teen romances, but it can be hard to find a good one without a lot of sexual content. Since adults reading about teenagers having sex feels grossly inappropriate to me, I have mostly stopped reading YA romance novels. I did, however, pick up Stephanie Perkins's short story collection, Summer Days and Summer Nights, and though much of the content in there also felt inappropriate, there was a wonderful story near the end of the book called "A Thousand Ways this Could All Go Wrong." It was the beautifully awkward story of the slowly developing romance between Annie, a camp counselor, and her crush, a teen boy with autism. When I finished that story, I immediately went to look up every book by its author, Jennifer E. Smith, wondering how on earth I had never read anything by her before. Because it was available as an ebook from the public library, I decided to start with The Geography of You and Me.

At the start of this novel, the power goes out in New York City, and teenagers Lucy and Owen are trapped together in an elevator. Lucy is a loner who has learned to be self-reliant now that her older brothers are off at college and her parents, who have always been travelers, continue to traipse around Europe. Owen, whose dad is the building superintendent, is also frequently alone as he struggles to come to terms with the death of his mother and to help his dad recover from his grief.  On the night of the blackout, Lucy and Owen spend hours together, enjoying each other's company, but when daylight arrives, and the power eventually returns, life resumes its normal rhythm, and soon they are separated as their families relocate several times. Across the months and the miles, however, both teens work toward being together again.

What I liked so much about this book is its focus on real emotions. This is not a story about a girl with a crush pining for an unattainable boy (or vice versa), nor is it a novel fraught with sexual tension that can only eventually lead to one thing. Instead, this is a book about two very real, very believable teen characters, who act their age, and think like kids, and feel awkward around each other even though they have a strong connection. It's also about communication, both with and without technology, and about finding a place in one's family while also forging one's own future. It's actually not about high school at all, but about a relationship that takes place entirely outside of the school routine, on postcards, and in emails, and over many months and through many miscommunications. It is not about dating and breaking up, or going to the prom and having sex, or even about falling in love per se. The book begins with two characters and their connection to one another, and simply follows those two well-developed individuals on the journey to mutual understanding. And I realize that this is what I loved about romances as a teen - not the graphic descriptions of kissing, or the dramatic fights, but the whys and hows of human connection, of how two young people can begin to know each other when they have only just begun to know themselves.

Jennifer E. Smith has several other books, and I'm hoping they all take a similar character-driven approach to storytelling. If they do, I have found a new favorite author.


  1. You MUST read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by the same author. It is wonderful, and I know that you would enjoy it.

  2. Yes so hard to find teen romances that I'm willing for my daughter to read. However we've been exploring Christian romances and my girl is a huge fan of fairy tale re-writes which are also romantic but clean