Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Let me get this out of the way: Divorce sucks. It's sucks, and it's crap, and I hate it. Believe what you want, but anything that normalizes divorce really grinds my gears. This is a book that portrays love as something that comes and goes, like a that really cute dress that was great for you in high school but really doesn't work any more now that you're a college graduate, rather than something that takes work. I knew I was going to get a lot of that crap going into the book, and even though I knew it, reading about how a grown man can ditch his family over "love at first sight" with some leggy British chick still made me furious. (Do you think it was "love at first sight" with his FIRST wife, too? Hmmmmm?)

Okay, that's the end of my rant. I promise, that's the last of it. Maybe it wasn't my place as a reviewer, but I'm new to this gig, and I felt that if I said nothing that I was being dishonest somehow. But the rant is out of the way, and you can do with it what you wish. Now for the rest of my review.
TSPoLaFS, Jennifer Smith, Poppy
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. She's stuck at JFK, late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's in seat 18C. Hadley's in 18A. 

Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it.

The story itself was surprisingly charming in its own simplistic way. Hadley is seventeen and late for her father's wedding. She missed her flight by four whole minutes, so now she's stuck by herself in an airport and might not make it to London in time. Not that she cares. She didn't want to go to her father's wedding anyways, and her dress is probably a wrinkled mess. In the midst of Hadley's impressive internal snit comes Oliver, a charming British boy who steps in to help her with her luggage. They hit it off... and keep hitting it off, all the way across the Atlantic.

Smith starts each chapter with the time (EST and Greenwich Mean) to chart how long Hadley and Oliver have known each other and how much time they have left. A cute idea, but I can't say I ever really paid attention to the headers. I was more interested in how she utilized time within the chapters themselves. Smith chose to make the narrative present tense, a choice that works very well when the work is rife with immediacy and action (see: Hunger Games). However, unless the plane is crashing or there's a terrorist on board, a flight over the Atlantic doesn't exactly brim with immediacy and action. Only during carefully interspersed flashbacks to Hadley's interactions with her parents does the tense change from present to past. Of course, this is precisely when I felt the most comfortable with the story.

Through the flashbacks, we learn how Hadley learned of her parents' separation, divorce, and respective new relationships. It's a rough road. Not in a HBO kind of way with screaming and shattered plates (Hadley's parents are remarkably civil), but just in the common, realistic, emotionally draining path that most kids slog through when their worlds fall apart.

Love, marriage, and all that stuff is what drives the novel. Hadley tries to figure out what happened to her parents even as she tries to reconcile their two new relationships (Dad with fiancee Charlotte, and Mom with her dentist) and her own interest in Oliver. Oliver is working out some questions of his own, but I can't really get into that without spoilers. (Basically, at the end, he gets to play Author's Advocate, which is a little like being Devil's Advocate except it's way preachier.)

The book isn't terribly surprising in any way. The "evil" stepmother-to-be is, of course, a delightful human being. Father is dreadfully awkward and sad, but hey, he was just following his heart! Cute British boy is cute and British and gets to be the author's sensible mouthpiece through most of the book. There's even a slightly wacky, proto-cool bridesmaid that plays the "My dad did the same thing when I was your age" bit and an overly possessive ex-girlfriend. If that was all, I would say skip the book. It's just another fluff piece, save your money and your time.

Except Hadley felt real. She felt like a living, breathing person, and she managed to radiate with pain in scenes without devolving into a hideous, emo stereotype. She's a real girl dealing with an incredibly real situation. Her family split in two. Her dad left her mom for another woman and it totally sucks because he's turned her world upside-down and she can't figure out what went wrong. My parents have never put me through anything like Hadley's situation, but I have a very close friend who went through the nearly exact same situation, and reading this story was like listening to her story all over again. To be honest, I straight up cried in a few places.

Like it or not, divorce is a very real, very prevalent feature in many teens' lives. While I don't agree with Smith's "divorce is for the best" spin, I do think this book is good for those struggling with a divorce in the family, struggling with forgiveness, struggling with how to move on. So, for me, this book earns my respect.

Points Added For: Airport Nazi ladies (they exist!), throat-clenching emotion, resilient mothers, cute British boys, bookish fathers, adorable cover.

Points Subtracted For: Unnecessary present tense, stereotypes, predictability, really unnecessary prologue. 

Good For Fans Of: ... Books that I don't normally read, so I'm not much help (Amazon suggests The Fault In Our Stars.)

Notes For Parents: Mild profanity, underage drinking.

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