You Are Here
ack in 2008 I read Jennifer E. Smiths The Comeback Season which probably made it to my best of 2008 list. Since I hadnt really followed Smith after that, I was surprised to stumble upon her latest book, You Are Here. I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I highly recommend it.
Peter and Emma are next door neighbors in upstate New York. They are more similar than they are different. Their birthdays are days apart. Both are loners, but for different reasons. Both feel like they dont fit into their families. Both are missing someone in their lives; Emma a twin brother who died days after birth and who she found out about a few days earlier and Peter, a mother who died giving birth to him. Neither family talks about the missing persons.
Emma hatches a plan to visit North Carolina, where she was born and where her brother, Thomas, is buried. It involves a few steps: go back to New York with her older brother Patrick after his 4th of July visit, borrow his car and drive to North Carolina, stopping off in Washington, D.C. to visit her sister Annie, visit Nate, her brother who lives in the house she was born in and visit Thomas grave. As with all impromptu road trips, something goes wrong. In this case, Patricks car dies at a rest stop on the New Jersey turnpike. So, Emma calls the only friend she has, Peter, who for reasons of his own, is in the mood for a road trip as well.
Smiths writing is descriptive. She so aptly describes the relationship between Emma and Peter, friends sort of at the start of the trip, the long bouts of silence as they drive, the awkward attempts at forming a relationship, the insecurities. She populates You Are Here with great characters, best of which is the 3-legged dog that adopts Emma. Peters father and Emmas family are real people with personalities. They deal with their grief in much the same way, a way that does not suit Emma and Peter. Their exploits are fun and interesting. The ending is emotional.
OK, I do have one criticism though. The road trip takes place in two Mustangs and the cover photo is a Cadillac. Hey, whats with that, Jennifer???
Smith has a readable, enjoyable way about her writing and her stories. You cant go wrong by reading The Comeback Season and You Are Here.
My New All-Time Favorite! :)
Reader reviewed by GirlwiththeBraids
The way Emma Healy thought of her childhood and family changes. At the age of sixteen, she finds a birth certificate in the attic of her supposed twin brother. And with it, his death certificate dated two days after. Emma never felt like she belonged with her scholarly family and now she can imagine that there had been someone else like her, someone ordinary. Though she doesnt own a car, she wants to visit her brothers grave, states away in North Carolina. Her neighbor, Peter, offers to drive her there so she accepts. What she didnt expect, though, was to find someone who understands her way better than she does herself that its almost scary. And hed been next door for all these years.
You Are Here is now my All-Time Favorite book. Enough said. But since you want to know, here is a list of everything I loved about it: Each sentence, paragraph, and chapter ended on the perfect note. The characters and their lives were so fully described that I felt connected to them and wanted to never, not ever, stop reading. At 2am I finished it and I could feel a cry coming up my throat just because it ended. There is a whole world inside this book that explores every corner of awkwardness, kindness, love, failure, imagination, death, hope, anger, and all the other kinds of emotion. And I experienced every one myself while reading. Its amazing! I have nothing bad to say about it. Author Jennifer E. Smith has an unbelievable talent that I cant even dream of having. She weaves together great writing, a wonderful storyline, an amazing plot, completely likable characters, and emotions that make the reader feel like they are just discovering them for the first time. All while keeping her unique voice.
Reader reviewed by Harmony
You Are Here is one of those books that grabs onto you and never lets go. Its full of hope and loss, goodbye and hellos, and, most importantly, love.
My one&issue? with the book was the fact that it took a while for things to get going and for the roadtrip to start, which meant the first few chapters were filled with backstory. Fortunately, most of it added to the characterization and plot. Then, once the action started, you were sucked in completely.
Despite the fact that the two main characters were easy to relate to, it is the plot I remember most about the story. Books with roadtrips are usually good but this had an extra more serious level of depth to it which completely changed everything. In a good way, of course.
The ending was perfect I loved it.
If you enjoyed Smiths previous novel or are just looking for a good summer book, I recommend picking this one up.
Road Trip Heals and Brings Families Together
Reader reviewed by Steph Su
Sixteen-year-old Emma Healy has
never felt like she belonged in her family full of professors, geniuses, and
success stories. While her much older siblings went on to college and careers,
Emma kept to herself, dreaming of normal birthday parties and conversations
that didnt revolve around obscure literary figures.
Emmas neighbor, Peter Finnigan,
is a Civil War-obsessed nerd who wishes he had a family like the Healys.
Instead, its just him and his cop father, forever separated and at odds by the
taboo subject of Peters mother, who died giving birth to him. When Emma discovers
a birth and death certificate for a twin brother she never knew she once had,
its as if she suddenly feels complete. This discovery leads Emma and Peter to
take a road trip from New York State to North Carolina to visit Emmas
brothers grave, but what they discover is not grief and loneliness, but rather
togetherness in all senses of the word.
Jennifer Smith certainly knows how
to write. Her narrative reads like one of those twelve-page character
description exercises that writers occasionally do in order to get to fully
know their characters. At the end of the book, we know Emma and Peter inside
out. Neither one is without flaws, but all of their complexities, worries, passions,
and dialogue simply sing through the pages. Jennifer is in real command of the
I think that the books weak
point, the one thing that made me not like the book as much as I wouldve
wanted to like it, was its plot. Road trips are a pretty common plot in YA lit,
and so its hard to redo the age-old plot without falling into a rut. Emma and
Peters road trip, while completely realistic, with things such as the New
Jersey Turnpike and the Gettysburg battlefield described in a mesmerizing yet
straightforward and thus believable way, was also unfortunately not very
exciting or engaging.
They pick up a stray dog who never
gets a name, they visit a bunch of random places and have conversations that
sometimes run deep and sometimes turn into arguments&these are all nice things
to think about, because they happen in everyones lives, but when these
incidents and family flashbacks make up the majority of the novel, something
gets lost. Never mind the fact that this book has a strong message: family is
not just about similarities, but also about staying together despite the
differences. Its a great message&provided you dont get lost along the way.
I also wasnt much a fan of the
Emma-and-Peter romantic coupling. I felt like I knew it was going to happen,
and yet while reading the book I REALLY didnt want it to, I wanted the book to
break the stereotypes of boy-girl get-togethers at the end of the novel, but
alas. Maybe I didnt get a clear image of Emma and Peter as compatible human
beings. They are great as individuals, yes, but together? I need more
Overall, however, YOU ARE HERE is
far from being a bad and unenjoyable book. Jennifer Smith is definitely a
strong writer whose talent deserves to get noticed. Readers who enjoy
character-driven books will like YOU ARE HERE, and for those of us looking for
a faster-paced read, well, youre going to have to wait for another book.