Bree T's Reviews > You Are Here

You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith
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Mar 25, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary, romania, young-adult
Read from May 12 to 13, 2012

Emma Healy is sixteen and has always felt like she didn’t belong in her overly academic family. Her parents are both professors and her two brothers and one sister are all much older than she is, in their thirties and living in other cities with degrees and high achieving jobs or attaining more post-graduate qualifications. Emma is only average at school and for her, life has just been a long story of not fitting in, of feeling like something is missing.

When her father asks her to find a text for him for a paper he is writing, Emma is stunned to find both her birth certificate and one for that of her twin, Thomas and then a death certificate issued for two days later. All of a sudden so many things make sense to Emma, her loneliness, her sense of being isolated from the family. If her brother had of survived, he’d have been like her, he’d have been someone she could relate to. Someone who would keep her company in the family she felt so removed from. Emma is devastated that her parents didn’t tell her about Thomas and she makes a plan to go and find out more about him, to visit a place where they lived with her and Thomas were born.

Her neighbour Peter loves maps – mostly because they all lead away from this small town he is trapped in. Born on the day of his mother’s death, bookish and quiet Peter doesn’t relate to his sports-loving, beer-drinking, poker-playing town sheriff of a father. He works hard with a goal to apply for a good college, but more importantly, a college far away from where he is so that he and his father don’t have to live their awkward, stilted existence any longer. When Emma calls him requesting help on her road trip, he doesn’t hesitate to join her, if they can visit a few places he wants to see too.

After reading and loving The Statistical Probability of First Sight earlier this year I decided I had to read more of Jennifer E. Smith’s books so recently I ordered this one and also The Comeback Season. I love road trip books – there’s just something about them. I love road trips in general, although it’s been some years since I’ve been on one!

When you really love something, especially the first book you’ve read by an author, it’s hard not to compare their other works to it. When your expectations are exceeded by the first book, all the subsequent books have a lot to live up to and it’s inevitable that some will fall short. Did I enjoy this book? Yes, I did…quite a bit. Did it hit the same chord with me as TSPOLAFS? No. And I’ve been pondering on that for the last day or two and I think the reason why, is Emma herself.

Emma is quite a complex character, she’s struggling to fit in with her eccentric and also over-achieving family. All she wanted was one normal birthday with a cake and maybe a bouncy castle, but she got academics, reciting papers and drinking red wine. Her grades are average, nothing spectacular and the age gap and physical distance between herself and her siblings means they are not especially close. Emma is prickly and very sensitive, she’s demanding and also quite a bit selfish. She wastes no time calling Peter when her roadtrip goes a bit wrong – but not because she really wants him along. She doesn’t really like him all that much, she’s more tolerated him for the past 8 or so years. She calls him because he’s a way for her not to get caught or have to go home. She shows little interest in his life, bored by the stops he wants to take along the way and often derisive of his interest in maps or in the battle grounds (such as Gettysburg) that he wants to see. She also knows that Peter has a bit of a crush on him (she states in the novel she probably knew before he did) which makes her squirm inside. Ultimately she’s not very nice to him for a large part of the book (she does have her moments of humanity) but she’s mostly quite self-absorbed. It did make her turn-around at the end of the book feel very rushed and abrupt!

What I did really enjoy about this book was the road trip itself. They’re driving a classic clunker, they sleep in camping grounds and in the car. They eat from gas stations and convenience stores and Peter counts his pennies at every stop. Plus the dog they picked up along the way does add a nice touch of character to the trip. I felt the road trip was quite realistic in terms of their ages and their capabilities. I also really, really enjoyed the way that Smith writes dysfunctional family relationships. I really did believe in Emma’s isolation and Peter and his father’s fractured relationship and inability to really communicate with each other. I felt that I could understand why Emma never knew about her twin and even though I felt for her, and felt that it was wrong she didn’t know, I could also understand why parents and children old enough to really feel the loss (her brothers and sister were in their mid to late teens at the time of her and Thomas’s birth) could clam up about it and just find it easier to never have to talk about it.

It’s not often I say this, but I actually feel this book was a bit too short. I feel as though the ending was a bit rushed and lacking in depth compared to the rest of the novel, which worked so hard to establish so much. Another 30-40 pages could’ve really made a huge difference in Emma’s change of mind for me, how she realises that she was so wrong. A bit more on Emma’s acceptance of her feelings and Peter’s role in her life would’ve made a big difference for me.
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05/12/2012 page 144
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