The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: New York City, travel, relationships with parents, long distance friendship/romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Owen and Lucy get stuck in an elevator together during a blackout in New York City. Once they are rescued, they explore the darkened (mostly) city and get to know each other. When they wake up the next morning, instead of picking up where they left off, Owen is off taking care of his dad and Lucy is off to (shockingly enough) meet her parents in London. Did their night of chatting, joking, and sharing mean anything more than just that? Owen and Lucy’s lives snowball into something new, maintaining the smallest amount of contact, yet still wondering if they will ever be in the same place again.
There are a few things I’ve come to expect from a Jennifer E. Smith novel: gorgeous prose, intimate friendships, family conflicts, and probably my favorite: lovely details to relish and collect along the way.
I’m so happy to say that The Geography of You and Me delivers in each and every way with the added bonus of a setting that starts off in my favorite place of all-time, New York City, and manages to move along to the West Coast and overseas in a way that made me want to book a plane ticket and explore the world immediately.
Do you remember the blackout in 2003? It was right before I left for college and one of my close friends and I were planning to go into the city after I got out of work. We wanted to see a show in an attempt to make as many memories as possible before we were apart for the first time in years. Well, it never happened. The lights went out in the store I was working in and I went home to no electricity — my plans for the evening totally changed.
My night was definitely not as memorable as Lucy and Owen’s. They spent the night wandering the city, getting to know each other, and looking up at the stars on the roof of their building. (It was their coolest refuge in the crazy heat of the summer.) What I loved most was that their time together wasn’t memorable because something physical happened, but because they shared something — it was a night where they both would have been alone if they hadn’t been caught in the elevator together. (Owen’s dad was stuck in Coney Island, and Lucy’s parents were on vacation in London.) It was one night of so many inconveniences that seemed better than so many others strung together. I didn’t blame each of them for placing so much importance on it, for wondering if it meant as much to the other as it did to them.
I would have been in the same boat.
One magical night doesn’t erase the grieving process that Owen and his dad are going through since his mother died a few months ago. Nor does Lucy’s confusion about feeling excluded from her parents’ lives (and their lavish trips) and wanting so much to see more of the world. Something that really stood out to me were the relationships between each of the characters and their parents. When Owen and his dad decide to leave New York and road trip to their next destination, the two get this unheard of time together to make life work without a mom and a wife. I felt almost jealous of these memories they were making together, even when it was difficult and they didn’t know if each destination was their last.
On the other hand, Lucy had a lot of independence as a teenager. But her parents don’t consider her thoughts when they move her overseas to Edinburgh and her growth as a character has a lot to do with being open with her parents. It’s a difficult thing to do and while she settles as best she can in a new place, she’s sort of at war with this independent life she has been conditioned to have but also trying to figure out how to share her life with her parents and be close to them too.
Through all of this, Owen and Lucy don’t forget each other. There are postcards and emails. Infrequent, but they happen! Most importantly, they don’t let their affection for each other and curiosity about what the blackout night meant for them stop them from moving forward. New locations, new jobs, new schools, and new boyfriends and girlfriends. Life keeps happening, even if you can’t stop thinking about a certain person. The way they miss each other is never angsty or dramatic either… it feels incredibly natural — all due to Smith’s gorgeous and thoughtful writing.
Other standout parts: the realism and awkwardness of the San Francisco trip, an effectively written section where Smith gives us one sentence per chapter (I loved what this did to the pacing), and the depth of character development folded into the story. At one point, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was in such a trance over Owen and Lucy’s story and I needed to know how it was all going to end.
The Geography of You and Me packed in everything I love so much about the young adult contemporary genre — a fully fleshed out story with two characters who are learning so much about themselves through their relationships with their parents and those special people who make an everlasting imprint in our lives.
P.S. I now know I need some kind of plan for future blackouts and keeping my cat safe. (Help!)