If 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.