Happy New Year! I hope 2015 treats you all well. In honor of the new year, here is my review of a book dealing with new beginnings.
Themes Explored: marriage, commitment, divorce, untraditional family, importance of education, forgiveness, parental responsibility, bullying, regrets, consequences, ethics, love, modern romance, new beginnings
Synopsis: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you cannot afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: I stumbled upon Jojo Moyes by accident. Last summer I was ridiculously bored and looking for something halfway decent to read. This led to a long perusal of the library shelves and this one book with a bright read cover caught my attention, Me Before You. I do not read a lot of romantic novels because I find most books in the genre to be an excruciatingly frustrating read. However, I was pleasantly surprised with Moyes. Indeed, Me Before You is one of only six books that have ever moved me to tears. Based upon this experience, I decided to give One Plus One a try. While I do not think the story is as emotionally charged as Me Before You, it was an enjoyable realistic romantic story.
One Plus One tells the story of Jess and her attempts to keep her family from succumbing to poverty. She works two jobs and tries to give a normal life to her daughter and stepson. Throughout all her misfortunes, Jess maintains an optimistic outlook on life. However, her optimism is challenged when her daughter is given a once in a lifetime opportunity and Jess cannot pull everything together in time. Help comes in the unlikely form of Ed Nicholls, a reclusive technological genius who is being investigated for insider trading. After agreeing to help Jess, Ed and company embark on a memorable three day car ride.
Odd road trip adventures are not a really unique premise, I kept having flashbacks to Little Miss Sunshine (which I hated by the way). However, Moyes is a talented writer and she manages to pack in some unexpected and moving emotional and witty moments. Both Jess and Ed have some unresolved emotional issues that they manage to come to turns with during this car trip. Moyes uses a split point-of-view in order to explore the complexity of each character. Most of the chapters focus on either Jess or Ed, but the kids (Nicky and Tanzie) have a handful of chapters. I am not a fan of split perspective narratives and the constant switching ruins the flow. So I was rather annoyed that Moyes used this style; however, she handles the various perspectives well. This resulted in two well-rounded main characters, I could have done without the children’s point-of-vies chapters. I do not think they added much to the narrative.
Perhaps my biggest problem with One Plus One is the characterization of Jess. Now there are a lot of positives about her: she provides for her family, she is loyal, she allows her children to be themselves, and she wants her children to have a better life. So as a heroine, she is a strong and competent character. However, she is also incredibly hard-nosed about some things. There are several instances in the story where I wanted Jess to stand up for herself. And she also refuses to accept help gracefully, she is always trying to refuse help and insists on paying everyone back. I can understand pride and not wanting to be considered a charity case. But really, it would not have hurt to have Jess accept help gracefully. She gives Ed a lot of unnecessary strife over certain things. After a while her attitude rubbed me the wrong way and I had a hard time reconnecting with the character.
Ed was given the short stick when it comes to characterization. He is given a hard background and a tragic fall from grace narrative arc, but his characterization is rather rushed. Throughout the course fo the story, Ed goes from being a slightly drunk depressed selfish man to a loyal and unselfish character. Not that this is a problem, but his transformation is unbelievably quick. I wish Moyes had focused a little more on exploring his change in perspective. The other main characters are Nicky and Tanzie, Jess’ children. Nicky is a bit of a loner who wears eyeliner is bullied at school. Moyes strikes the right tone with describing his problems and how he deals with his problems. Tanzie is a math genius and is a little odd. She treats life as if it is one big math problem. Overall, her character is realistic but, after a while, slightly annoying. Moyes paints her in a slightly martyr like tone and I did not think this meshed well with the other characterizations.
The narrative moves quickly and does not drag. Despite my problems with the characters, I still struggled to put the book down. I finished it in two days. Moyes has a charming writing style and her characters always comes across as real people. While the story is obviously contrived in some areas, it is still an enjoyable read. What I love the most about One Plus One is that Moyes does not whitewash the ending. The narrative does end with a mushy and contrived happy ending, but there is a realistic and poignant ending. Each character has to deal with the consequences of their actions and this impacts the ending. All-in-all, this was an enjoyable read.
One Plus One, Pamela Dorman Books, 2014, ISBN 9780525426585