(5 stars) The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
This book wrecked me. It is the only book I’ve read in probably the last several years where I had maybe 30 pages left and I skipped to the end to read the last page because I couldn’t bear it any longer. I then felt deep shame, of course, but no regrets.
“Life isn’t easy for anyone. We all have challenges. We all face adversity. It’s how we overcome it that makes us who we are.”
Annika Rose has always been a little different, but mostly she’s okay with that. Just like her engineer father, she doesn’t always quite understand people’s motivations or emotions, and generally likes to be left alone, but most of the time she copes just fine. When she starts college, she ends up befriending her roommate and expanding her social circle and her experiences a little bit. This leads her to join the chess club, where she meets a young man named Jonathan. That was in the 90s. Fast forward to the early 2000s, and she runs into Jonathan again at a coffee shop. It’s clear from the start that while they fell in love and had a serious relationship, at some point that ended and Annika blames herself. They haven’t spoken to each other in years.
“Though she has trouble deciphering other people’s facial expressions, her face is an open book and no one would ever have trouble understanding hers.”
From here, we watch them reconnect while also getting flashbacks to how their relationship progressed and eventually ended when they were in college. I really enjoyed this book. I loved Annika’s, how her personality quirks are loved by Jonathan but not treated like some sort of silly affectation. It’s pretty clear that she’s on the spectrum, and well Jonathan sometimes struggles to understand her actions, he absolutely loves her. The ending to this book stressed me the hell out. I read the entire thing in one night because I needed to find out what was going to happen. If you’re in the mood for a rather typical romance with a rather unusual heroine for the genre, this might be worth picking up.
On the Island (On the Island #1) by Tracey Garvis Graves
After I devoured The Girl He Used to Know, I checked out the only other book by Tracey Garvis Graves at my library. It was also a novel about love, but that’s about where the similarities end. Here’s your one line summary — 30 year old Anna Emerson and her 16 year old student T.J. crash land on a desert island, where they’ve forced to find a way to survive while also falling in love. Yes, she sleeps with her student. They make a very big deal about him turning 18 first.
This book was ridiculous. The two main characters land on the luckiest island of all time — the water currents wash most of their luggage to them (including Anna’s carry-on, which contains more toiletries than your average Walgreens, thus ensuring her legs remain silky smooth while on the desert island). There’s fruit-bearing trees, a lagoon full of fish and even an abandoned shack. Not saying they had it easy, but Tom Hanks had a much tougher time.
That being said — it’s a sweet, breezy read that would be an excellent addition to your own island vacation. Just try not to sleep with any teenagers while you’re there.
(4 stars) The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
This book was adorable. Nina shared some of the same personality characteristics as Annika Rose from The Girl He Used to Know, but in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, it’s definitely intended as quirky and fun — how she doesn’t really know how to relate to people, how she lives in a book. But that’s fine too! Sometimes we do enjoy our weird off-kilter heroines. And not much about this book is meant to be super realistic.
Nina Hill has been trucking along just fine in her mostly solo life full of books and book clubs and the failing bookstore where she works. She was raised mostly by her nanny while her travel-loving mother flew to all corners of the globe in search of adventure. She never knew her father was, but that was never much of a problem — until she gets a visit from a lawyer saying that her father passed away, leaving her something in his will…in addition to a massive new family.
Nina has to learn how to navigate this new family, including several members who want nothing to do with her — they’re worried she is going to mess with their inheritance. Of course in the manner of such things, she also meets a guy during the same time. It’s a slightly predictable book, but the fun characters and overall geekiness definitely make up for any plot twist that you saw coming from a mile away.