Monday, December 30, 2019
Published April 2019 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library
Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.
Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.
Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.
Several years ago, my book club read Graves' book On The Island and to say that I was not a fan would be an understatement. So when this book started getting a lot of buzz, I was surprised but not going to be lured into reading it. And then I was.
What I Liked:
Graves took a big chance in making the female lead in her romance be someone on the autism spectrum. It felt to me like an accurate portrayal and, from what I was able to find on the internet, those who know far more about this than I do, seem to feel that Graves' has done good job showing what life is like for someone on the spectrum. And Graves makes Annika, a girl who has trouble doing and saying the right thing and making friends, a character that readers will really care about. I was happy to see her grow and learn how to live life in a world that she doesn't entirely understand.
As for Jonathan, there's got to be a certain element of "too-good-to-be-true" to him; he has to be someone who has the patience and understanding to deal with Annika's autism. Mind you, the couple first meet in 1991, when we weren't even aware that there was a whole spectrum of autism. But Graves' doesn't overdo Jonathan's goodness; he is not without his flaws and there is sometimes a limit to his patience. It keeps him real.
It's a lovely romance and that's coming from someone who is generally not a great fan of romance books. I enjoyed watching these two first fall in love, especially as Annika has to learn how to be in a relationship from her best friend. And I enjoyed watching them fall in love again ten years later, two people with a past but also with new baggage and strengths. But...
What I Didn't Like:When these two found themselves back in each other's lives, Jonathan seemed to take no time at all to get over the fact that Annika had abandoned him ten years earlier. The reason Annika didn't follow Jonathan after college was perfectly understandable to readers, as we slowly learn about it but Jonathan didn't have that same insight and the two never really talked about it. So, ten years later, you might expect that would need to be worked out before they could move forward. But it seemed to happen the other way.
A lot of the problem I had with Graves' On The Island, was a heavy dose of creep factor. This book doesn't come close to that but it's not without some passages that made me cringe. Here Jonathon is talking about Annika: "Her breasts never feel like they're in your face, but they make you wonder what they look like under her clothes." There were other descriptions of Annika's body that seemed out of character coming from Jonathan.
Finally, that last 75 pages or so of the book. Even those who loved this book acknowledge that the last part of the book seems out of character with the rest of the book. It gets very melodramatic and drawn out and Graves throws a lot at readers to show us just how much Annika has grown stronger. I really felt like Graves could have brought these two back together, and shown us how much being back together has helped both of them, without going to such extremes. But I know from having talked with Graves about the real typhoon that was the impetus for On The Island, that the big event at the end of the book, may have been the catalyst for this book to begin with.
So is there enough that I liked to outweigh what I didn't? I went in to this book with low expectations so I shouldn't have been disappointed. But I was. Because I felt like it wouldn't have taken much to make this a much better book. In the end, I find myself in the minority about this book - I didn't love it. But I liked it, particularly because Annika is a character that really drew me in.