If you like: Realistic fiction, learning to empathize with those with differences and struggles, historical events incorporated into the plot line, overcoming adversity, a bit of romance, books at about 300 pages
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a full review of anything I’ve been reading, but after picking up an advance reader copy of The Girl He Used to Know (through a Goodreads Giveaway, and with thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the free copy), and zooming right through it on a cold, overcast Saturday morning, I figured it was time.
First, let’s get down to the basics without spoilers:
Annika (pronounced like “Monica” but without the M) is an English major in college who has a rough time of figuring out how to fit in. She has a variety of different struggles, but the largest seems to be a bit of social anxiety (and anxiety in general), and she always seems to find it difficult to figure out social cues. You’ll oftentimes hear her equate these feelings to not having the same script that everyone else seems to have and having to wing it from scene to scene, hoping she acted all the parts right.
Her roommate, Janice, is a bit of a lifesaver during these times; she helps Annika search through the meaning of people’s actions and words, and she coaches her through social situations that would come naturally to so many others.
Then, Annika meets Jonathan through the chess club at their university, and before she knows it, they’re inseparable, and maybe even MFEO (made for each other).
“I want to work at a library someday,” I said. “I want to spend every waking day of my adult life surrounded by books.”Tracey Garvis Graves, The Girl He Used to Know
Fast forward a decade, and Annika seems to be living her best life in Chicago working as a librarian (what she’s always wanted to be), but she’s alone. She runs into her old college boyfriend, Jonathan, who is divorced but plenty busy with his successful career. But what happened after those years in college? And do these two have a chance to rekindle what was left behind so many years ago?
The first 100 pages were a bit slow for me to get into. This book is much more character driven than plot driven, and if you know me and my reading preferences even the littlest bit, you know that I love a good plot driven novel. So there were moments when I was reading this book that I thought, “Should I keep going, or should I DNF?” I decided to keep going, and if things didn’t pick up after a certain point, I’d reconsider putting it down.
Ultimately, I’m glad I pushed through. After those 100 pages of hearing all about Annika and her struggles (which I completely empathized with, but 100 pages of it was starting to get tiring), a few things happened that sped my reading up a bit and had me fairly more committed. I wanted to know what would happen, what had happened to these characters in the past, and where they were going to end up. Up into that point, I don’t think I was really invested in them, but they grew on me.
“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.”Tracey Garvis Graves, The Girl He Used to Know
I think that the lessons that can be learned from this book are of course incredibly valuable, and good books are those that can help us as readers reflect on our own experiences and actions and perhaps create meaningful change in ourselves and the world around us. This book might not be shout life lessons from the rooftops, but it does remind us that we all have struggles, some of us more than others and more visible than others, but kindness can move mountains, and our amount of empathy for others is something we should always strive to grow.