Book Review: ‘The Geography of You and Me’ by Jennifer E. Smith

The Geography of You and MeIf you’re anything like me, you might be suffering from major disappointment that the romantic comedy heyday of the 90s and early 2000s seems to have passed, and it is now next to impossible for a decent romantic comedy to hit theaters. But here’s the good news: books exist! Particularly, books like Jennifer E. Smith’s The Geography of You and Me, a very quick and engaging read built upon a lovely romantic comedy trope: meet cute, spend a day together, get pulled apart, spend the rest of the story pining. It’s very Serendipity for high school seniors, and these types of scenarios have become things I associated with Jennifer E. Smith books – it’s like she has a 15-year-old girl (or perhaps just Mindy Kaling) attached to some kind of mind-reading robot, spewing daydream scenarios for Smith to turn into lovely little books.

The Geography of You and Me starts with a (the?) New York City blackout. Our main girl Lucy finds herself trapped in an elevator with Owen, a boy who lives in her building but who she has never interacted with. The elevator situation gives Lucy and Owen a chance to get to know each other, and they end up spending the entire day of the blackout together. It’s not particularly romantic or dramatic, but something about their time together leaves an impression on both of them.

But before anything can come of it, Lucy’s parents whisk her off to Europe so her father can take a new job, and Owen’s dad packs up their car to drive them across the country, looking for a permanent place to land after New York didn’t pan out. This initially leads to an exchange of postcards, and occasionally emails, as Lucy and Owen attempt to stay in touch. But they never really established any sort of arrangement, and neither of them really knows to what extent the other is invested.

At a certain point, the story becomes less about Lucy and Owen as a unit and more about how they each grow when they’re apart. They are both dealing with family issues and the stress of moving to new places, and both pursue relationships with other people. They go about their lives, but they never stop thinking of each other.

And as cute as that might seem, this is also where I ran into my biggest struggle with the story. The concept on its own works. Sure, it’s been done before, but it still makes for a nice story. And while I enjoyed reading about Lucy and Owen, I found myself struggling with how things unfolded. There wasn’t quite enough initial interaction between them for me to really understand why they were so important to each other, so I wanted more of that – the parts of the story where they were together were the most interesting to me because it helped build the connection between them, which was the main point of the story. But they spend so much of the book apart that I found it hard to remain invested in their individual stories.

To be fair, Owen and Lucy were interesting characters that, with a bit different execution, could have been very engaging on their own. It almost felt like Smith was trying to take on a bit too much in too few pages. Owen’s backstory about his mother’s recent death and Lucy’s strained relationship with her parents are both touched on, but not explored enough to make them important elements of the story. There’s an attempt to show what Lucy and Owen learn about themselves through the course of their moves, and that is somewhat successful, but again – it could have been more to really make me connect with the characters.

But here’s the thing. The Geography of You and Me is a quick read, it’s cute without being too cute, and it keeps things light without sacrificing substance. Just like there is a place for this kind of story in romantic comedies, there’s a place for this kind of story in YA fiction. I do think this was a case where I would have enjoyed the book more if I were in the target age range, but I also think it’s worth noting that despite any sort of shortcomings I found in this book, it still left me feeling happy and satisfied when I finished.

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What We’ve Been Reading: October 2013

When The Daily Quirk Bloggers aren’t writing, they’re reading! We decided it would be fun to share our bibliophilia with you by listing what we have been reading each month and giving you our opinions on a three point scale: Recommend It, Maybe, or Skip It. Have fun checking out what pages we’ve been turning and feel free to share your own recent reads in the comments! Continue reading

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith

Book Review: ‘This Is What Happy Looks Like’ by Jennifer E. Smith

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith

This is What Happy Looks Like (Image Credit: Jennifer Smith)

The Daily Quirk is very excited to announce we’ll be conducting a This Is What Happy Looks Like giveaway in conjunction with author Jennifer E. Smith where five lucky readers can each win a copy of the book! Read the review and then get all the details on how you can enter to win! (The giveaway is now closed. Thank you for entering!)

I knew I was in for a treat when the first page of Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like kicked off with one of my favorite things: email conversations between the characters. Yes, this idea can go totally the wrong direction, but I find that it usually doesn’t, and it’s one of those things (much like road trip plots) that always strikes my fancy for whatever reason. And so, after a few pages’ worth of emails between the main characters, Ellie and Graham, I was hooked.

The emails are hugely relevant because they’re actually how Ellie and Graham meet. Graham is a movie star in California. Ellie is a “normal” girl in Maine. When Graham mistypes an email address and accidentally connects with Ellie, they quickly form a bond with each other without ever talking about the specifics – which is to say Ellie has no idea she’s online flirting with a celebrity. This changes when Graham lands in Ellie’s hometown to shoot a movie and he decides to track her down. Ellie, however, is averse to being in the spotlight thanks to a deeply buried past family secret that continues to impact the way she lives her life. While both Graham and Ellie are interested in spending time together, Graham’s very public existence threatens that possibility.

So, clearly this book was adorable. And not necessarily in the way you might be thinking. Okay, maybe in the way you’re thinking. But I don’t want to give the impression that this book is the standard boy-meets-girl-then -encounters-setback-but -ends-happily-ever-after sort of thing. All right, maybe it is that. But it’s not especially cheesy, and the conflict actually has some weight to it – it’s not standard teenage miscommunication or emotional immaturity. In fact, both of the main characters were quite mature, and I appreciate Smith giving teenagers some credit in that department. Graham especially impressed me with his ability to deal with life’s inconveniences, even when Ellie made it difficult. Both main characters were likable despite their particular issues. There were a handful of side characters (Ellie’s mother and best friend Quinn, for example) that could have been a bit more three dimensional, but were still developed pretty well given the pacing of the book.

This book takes place in a small coastal town in Maine during the summer. Smith hits the quirky (but not too quirky) small town vibe perfectly.  I liked the dichotomy of a town that seems to prefer keeping to itself but also depends on summer tourists for its prosperity. There was a consistent beachy, summery vibe throughout the book, which I can always appreciate. I also liked how the small town setting really helped balance out the Hollywood side of the story.

On that note, I couldn’t help but think what an incredibly unrealistic character Graham was, what with his complete disinterest in the Hollywood lifestyle and humble personality. It’s great to imagine that a person like him exists, but Graham was just so grounded, it was hard to reconcile the fact that he was actually a movie star. Even the most grounded movie star has their indulgences, and that doesn’t make them bad people. I almost wished Graham would have shown some of that so I could wrap my mind around the idea of him being a real person. I really enjoyed his character, but I think I would have enjoyed it even more if it felt more tangible.

I’ve only read one other Jennifer E . Smith book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I noticed one interesting similarity between that and This Is What Happy Looks Like – unusual composition and pacing. Most YA books that have a love story tend to either draw out the relationship between the characters so it takes the whole book for them to get together, or get them together right away and then throw a variety of dramatic complications at them. Smith has an interesting way of focusing on the relationship right away and building it to a certain point, then veering off to focus on an entirely different issue (though the love story is still threaded into it, it’s secondary or even tertiary), then coming back around to address both the love story and the other issue almost simultaneously.  The “other issue” has been family-related in both Smith books I’ve read, and she seems to have a knack for giving her characters family issues that are both understandably tough and yet still relatable to an average reader.

So yes, elements of this book are very much what you probably expect based on the title and cover. It is a cute love story; there’s no denying that. But a different kind of cute love story, and it’s not just a cute love story. And, if you need any further convincing, just remember this: there is extensive talk of whoopie pies in this book. Extensive.

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith

This is What Happy Looks Like (Image Credit: Jennifer Smith)

Giveaway Details

Readers can enter the This is What Happy Looks Like Giveaway by using the form below and can gain up to two additional entries by following The Daily Quirk on Twitter (one additional entry) and/or by joining the #happylookslike Hashtag Campaign by tweeting a photo of what happy looks like to you along with the #happylookslike hashtag on Twitter (one additional entry).

If you intend on taking part in the Twitter following and/or tweeting for additional entries, please do so before you fill out the form below and include your twitter handle for confirmation.

The giveaway is now closed. Thank you for entering!

The This is What Happy Looks Like Giveaway is open to all readers in the United States. Entries will be accepted April 5th-April 9th, 2013. Winners will be announced by first name and last initial on the site and contacted privately via email to arrange shipment of the books.

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An Interview with Author Jennifer E. Smith

Author Jennifer E Smith

Author Jennifer E Smith (Image Credit: Fiona Abound)

I first became aware of author Jennifer E. Smith when I saw the striking cover of her 2012 novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, peeking out at me from my Nook as a new release right after New Year’s Day. Somewhere between the cover and the tagline (Who would have guessed that four minutes can change everything?) I was won over.

Not only did I buy the book; I read it in one sitting. Thanks to a few minutes of lost time, the two main characters meet in an airport and share a plane ride to London. They forge a connection during the few hours they spend together, but then must go their separate ways when they land. But it wasn’t just a story about two characters finding a way to be together – it was a story of a teenage girl struggling to come to terms with major changes within her family.

Smith’s latest novel, This Is What Happy Looks Like (available today), plays with similar themes – a sweet romance develops between a Hollywood celebrity and a small town girl, but is complicated by both family issues and the pressure of the public eye. Though the “Hollywood” element is present, the book feels very subtle and personal, filled with unique characters and small town charm. In honor of today’s release of This Is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself and her books. Keep reading for more on Jennifer and This Is What Happy Looks Like!
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What We’ve Been Reading: February 2013

What We’ve Been Reading: February 2013

When The Daily Quirk Bloggers aren’t writing, they’re reading! We decided it would be fun to share our bibliophilia with you by listing what we have been reading each month and give you our opinions on a three point scale: Recommend It, Maybe, or Skip It. Have fun checking out what pages we’ve been turning, and feel free to share your recent reads in the comments! Continue reading