Owen lives in the basement. Lucy lives on the 24th floor. But when the power goes out in the midst of a New York heatwave, they find themselves together for the first time: stuck in a lift between the 10th and 11th floors. As they await help, they start talking…
The brief time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can’t shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can’t, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy – and pain – of first love.
And as they make their separate journeys in search of home, they discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.
Having enjoyed Jennifer E. Smith’s previous books The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This is What Happy Looks Like tremendously, when I got the chance to request The Geography of You and Me for review I jumped on it. And Smith’s third YA offering doesn’t disappoint. With an easy writing style and some quirky playing with chapter lengths, The Geography of You and Me offers a charming exploration of love at (almost) first sight, but also of two young people trying to find their feet in the world independent of their families.
On the one hand there’s Lucy. Born into privilege, with all she might want at her disposal, yet when we meet her she is lonely and home alone as her parents have jetted off on holiday to Paris and her brothers are both away at university. Yet while she may be lonely, Lucy is in no way a tragic figure, in fact she’s quite funny. While her story is bookended by her meetings with Owen, much of the book sees her moving away from New York and living outside of the US. I loved her discovery of life abroad and away from her safe NYC haunts. Though at one point I wanted to just shake her parents when Lucy has the courage to express her desire for more time with them, especially on their travels and they react as if she’d only had to ask. How could she have known? Why didn’t they just ask the children!? That just made me mad. Lucy was already at home in herself at the start of the novel, but she finds her place in the world through the course of the novel, with Owen only being part of that development, not the catalyst.
Owen is the Downstairs to Lucy’s Upstairs: the son of her building’s property manager, he lives in the basement of her high rise. His home situation is less financially and emotionally stable than Lucy’s, especially with his dad still in deep mourning after the loss of his wife and Owen’s mum. I really empathised with Owen’s feeling of responsibility for his dad, having to cover for him at work and feeling guilty at possibly moving away for university after graduation. It always breaks my heart to see a child feel that way and Owen was no exception. I liked though that over the course of the novel, and during their trek across the United States, Owen’s dad comes out of his mourning fugue and he and Owen rebuild their lives and their bond.
Smith does banter extremely well and the dialogues between Lucy and Owen are wonderful, as are Lucy’s brief scenes with Liam. I didn’t like Owen’s scenes with Paisley as much, as they seemed somehow ephemeral, though perhaps that was the point, seeing how that situation comes to an end. Something that struck me with all of Smith’s books and with this latest one in particular, is how visual they are; they feel like they would translate to film very well. Besides the great banter and lovely emotional beats, Smith’s smooth writing makes The Geography of You and Me an extremely engaging story, one that is hard to put down before reaching the final page.
In the end The Geography of You and Me isn’t about love at first sight, it’s about growing up, about the people that move into your head and linger there, asking you to imagine what could be, about exploring all the possibilities. I love that Smith ends the book not on a happily ever after, but on an ‘we’re here now and we’ll see what happens next’. It’s what I’d like to call a realistic happy ending, because how many people live happily ever after with the person they fall in love with at seventeen? While The Geography of You and Me isn’t my favourite of Smith’s novels – that title still belongs to This is What Happy Looks Like – I had a wonderful time with the book. If you’re a fan of Smith’s or you’re looking to read a fun and charming YA romance, this is a book you’ll want to read.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.