This latest novel by Jennifer Weiner was thoroughly readable and engaging as long as I squashed my inner cynic into a small ball and buried it deep in a drawer. It tells the story of Rachel Blum and Andy Landis, who first meet when they are 8 years old. Rachel is in a Florida hospital being treated for a heart condition that she has struggled with since birth. Andy ends up in the E.R. of the same hospital with a broken arm. The accident happened while Andy, on vacation with his single mom, was left alone in the hotel room, and he is brought to the hospital by himself, scared and defensive about the whereabouts of his mom. Andy and Rachel meet, Rachel attempts to comfort him by giving him her bear and telling him a story, and then his mother arrives. Neither think they will ever see each other again until of course they do.
The novel alternates chapter by chapter between Rachel’s first person narration and Andy’s third person point of view and shows how Rachel and Andy reconnect and move into and out of each other’s lives. Their backgrounds are different. Rachel, who is Jewish, is raised in a wealthy upper-class home in Florida where money is rarely an issue. As she recovers her health, Rachel struggles to redefine herself as the popular girl, someone not known for her illness and hospital stays. Andy, who is biracial, lives with his white mom in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia. Luckily, Andy’s mom and a well-timed father figure help Andy channel his growing rage and energy into running—something Andy shows a rare talent for.
Weiner does a nice job of telling each character’s own individual story as well as the equally fraught and fate-filled story of their relationship. Though you suspect the book will end happily, both characters have to go through a lot and grow a lot before getting there. That is where the heart of this book really is—that we change and grow but our eight-year-old selves, maybe our best selves, can recognize a strong connection.