This. Book. Ruined. Me. There is really no other way to put it. The Girl He Used To Know hit me in all my sensitive spots. Annika felt very familiar to me, Jonathan was lovely, and this whole book was a widely emotional ride. One final thing before we get to the review, make sure you read the date at the beginning of each chapter. If you do, you won’t be as shocked as I was by the event that occurs in the final fourth of the book. (aka I need to pay attention more) Let’s get to the review!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
The book is formatted so that each chapter is the point of view of either Annika or Jonathan. I really like when books do this because it helps break up the book and allows the reader to explore and connect with more than one character. The book also switches between periods of time. There are some chapters that show Annika and Jonathan’s relationship in 1991 when they first meet in college and some in 2001 when they meet up again.
The book starts off with Annika. It’s clear early on that Annika isn’t like the people around her. Her social skills aren’t the best, she doesn’t like loud noises, and finds a lot of people’s behavior very confusing. (same)
When we first meet Annika, she is a librarian, the job she has always wanted (ditto), and is doing the best she can to live her life in Chicago. She’s seeing a therapist to help her understand other people and understand herself. One day, while she’s shopping for groceries, she runs into her college boyfriend, Jonathan. The meeting throws her off-kilter. Their relationship did not end well and while Annika is so happy to see him, she worries what he might think of her.
But Jonathan’s life isn’t perfect either. He may have a fancy job in finance, but he’s also getting over a divorce. While he is reluctant to meet with Annika after their first meeting, he doesn’t say no to another meeting (or another one after that.) Eventually, they come back together, happier than they ever might have been if they never broke up. But can their relationship last a travesty that no one was expecting?
Between the chapters showing Annika and Jonathan reconnecting, we get to see what Annika was like in college and how she ends up meeting Jonathan. They meet at chess club, the one extracurricular Annika participates in. Annika has trusted the wrong people in the past, so when she first starts to have feelings for Jonathan, she makes him meet her roommate, Janice. Janice gets Annika. She knows how she is, what she likes, and what she doesn’t, and she’s saved her from more than one bad situation before. Once Janice approves of Jonathan, Annika feels even better about being with him and they begin what turns into a serious relationship.
But a tragedy, Annika’s issues, and Jonathan’s avoidance of certain parts of who she is (how did he think Annika was going to live in NYC? HOW?!) ends up breaking their relationship apart.
Luckily, their connection is reignited when they meet ten years later.
Ok. Time for trigger warnings. If you’re old enough, you know what huge event happened in 2001. I am old enough and it still went over my head until I got to the chapter where it all goes down. Again, I should pay more attention to chapter headings!! If this event (I’m really trying to not give spoilers lol) is triggering for you, just be aware that it’s pretty well described and the periods of waiting, when we don’t know if a certain character is ok, are VERY intense.
For me, I had to stop reading and take some deep breaths before I could continue. My memory of that day is too good and my brother would have been next to the towers that day if his alarm had not malfunctioned.
That being said, The Girl He Used to Know is an extraordinary book. I have read a few other books this year that have had characters who were on the spectrum and the writers all did a great job developing them and making them more than “just” autistic.
Despite the fact that Annika doesn’t necessarily know how to relate to people, Tracey Garvis Graves makes it easy to relate to her struggles and cheer for her during her triumphs.
I loved Annika and saw some of my own social anxiety and abandonment issues reflected back at me through her. Janice is also definitely my other favorite character. The care she takes with Annika and the love she clearly has for her made me so happy. It seemed like Annika didn’t have too many people before she met Janice and Janice helped her out in so many ways that her family just couldn’t.
And Jonathan is lovely. He may not understand everything about Annika but he’s willing to learn and listen and understand what she needs from him. He also expects some things from her and I loved how adult their relationship was.
My only criticism, honestly, is that I wish the title of the book was focused more on Annika. Instead of “The Girl He Used to Know,” I wish it had more to do with Annika or her and Jonathan’s relationship. Right now, it makes it seem like we are going to meet this girl through a boy’s eyes and that is definitely not what this book is. Annika and Jonathan are both their own people who come together because they make each other happy. Maybe this is me putting too much on to the title, but as I read the book, that thought kept coming into my head.
Other than that, this book had me sobbing for at least ten minutes after I finished it. The emotion it evokes is incredible. If you ever doubted the power of words and stories, read this book and you’ll realize just how powerful those things can be. I am giving The Girl He Used To Know 5 out of 5 stars. Add this to your TBR but make sure you have some tissues with you when you read it.
The Girl He Used To Know by Tracey Garvis Graves comes out April 2, 2019 (I know! It’s a long wait!)
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martins Press for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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