New York Times Bestselling Author Tracey Garvis Graves has a new book coming out on April 2nd, and THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW is going to be a fantastic springtime read. I’m not usually a reader of books in the “Romance” genre, and I’d never read TGG’s work before, so I went in to this book devoid of expectations. I was pleasantly surprised and I became invested in the characters’ lives and coping mechanisms.
From the publisher:
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.
I found the main characters wonderfully developed, and the dialogue was both natural and helped move the plot along and deepen the characters’ personalities. The novel has perspectives from the two main characters, Annika and Jonathan, although Annika gets much more of a spotlight. The story also uses flashbacks to give detail and explanation for the roadblocks the two face in reconnecting.
I liked that Garvis Graves handled the reveal of a couple of details deftly. I won’t give away what initiated Jonathan and Annika’s break-up back in college, but as I read I wondered…and finding out the reason came at the perfect time and revealed so much about Annika’s character. In addition, most readers will figure out pretty quickly, based on Annika’s actions and words, that she is on the autism spectrum. However, it’s not something that is ever mentioned until well towards the end of the novel. And in one uncomfortable but realistic scene, Jonathan finally tells Annika, “Did you really think I didn’t know?” Small spoiler: Annika really thought Jonathan didn’t know. It was a touching and realistic scene between the two.
The 2001 timeline feels rushed for the Annika/Jonathan reunion, but as the 1991 events unfurl, the whirlwind of getting reconnected begins to become more and more believable. And getting to know Annika and Jonathan’s relationship, as well as meeting peripheral characters (who are essential but sidelined!) like Janice and Annika’s parents and Annika’s therapist Tina, is worth the compressed emotional events.
I appreciated the emphasis on loving and appreciating people for who they are, and Annika’s methods of coping and growing are treated with sensitivity and a matter-of-fact realism. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the novel and getting to know the characters, but I had a personal reaction to one aspect of the novel. See below if you don’t mind partial spoilers!
THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW by Tracey Garvis Graves comes out April 2nd!
SPOILER: My major gripe with the novel is using September 11th as a plot point. This is personal for me, and I understand that as more and more time goes by, 9/11 will become an event that appears as a plot device, and portrayed as a piece of fiction or even fantasy. I get that Annika needed an impossible challenge to push her into self-sufficiency. But having lived through what NYC, and Lower Manhattan particularly, was like at the time and knowing how very, very few missing people were found alive, it felt disrespectful to me. Again, it worked for the characters, and I know many readers found the end of the book riveting. But I really dreaded the countdown at the chapter headings. So much so that I skipped to the end to read the final chapters before finishing — then of course I went back to continue reading.