The Girl He Used To Know by Tracey Garvis Graves || Book Review [spoilers]

10/19/2020

 I've put spoilers in the title just so people are aware, but I will put a big warning when I'm about to discuss the ending because it's necessary for my overall review. Enjoy!

Trigger warnings for the novel: Attempted assault, miscarriage, suicide 

The Girl He Used To Know is a story about a couple who broke up yet never stopped loving each other. In a duel timeline/duel narrative, we follow Annika and Johnathon as they rekindle their spark in 2001 while still dealing with the decisions that led to their break-up. The author takes the reader on a journey of mystery, not telling you why they broke up until near the end of the book. Some may hate that, but it kept me reading. This is the first book in awhile that I stayed up until stupid 'o clock to finish in one sitting. I was intrigued and thoroughly emotionally destroyed. 


Annika is on the autism spectrum which is pretty obvious from the first few chapters. She struggles with social norms and interactions, making it very hard for her in university. Her roommate urges her to step outside of her comfort zone with the afterschool chess club which leads her directly to Johnathon, a guy who seems to understand her. From there, their relationship blossoms into something romantic and all-consuming.


I really liked the representation of Annika's character in this novel. She was believably struggling with being on the spectrum without it being a main plot for her. Her relationship problems were believable despite the attempt at a 'plot twist' (more on that later). Her and Johnathan's relationship was very realistic and I actually routed for them, which isn't always the case in contemporaries that mostly revolve around a break-up. Most of the time in books like these, the author makes one of the characters do something unforgiveable as a way of implementing a break-up. That wasn't the case here. Was it your usual miscommunication plot? Yes, but with a decent enough reason for it not to make me want to pull my hair out.


One thing I really enjoyed from The Girl He Used To Know was how great of a boyfriend Johnathan was. There were moments where he failed to have patience with Annika but never in a "why can't you just be normal?" way. He knew the girl she was when they got together and he never resented her for it, which again, is something that could easily happen in a novel like this. He had his own character with his own problems but didn't fail the protagonist.


If you don't want spoilers, stop here. This was a decent contemporary with an ending that failed the story, but I would still say it is worth a read. I personally thought the autism rep was done well (though I can't truly comment on it as I'm not on the spectrum.), it opened my eyes to some of the problems that people struggle with and that's what I usually want from an author representing an illness. 

3.5/5.


**SPOILERS ALERT**


My problems first began with Annika wanting to go on the pill, because her roommate says "he would like that". When she practically repeats that to him he just agrees. I would've liked a little 'but would that make you happy?' back and forth, but okay. Sure. When she loses the baby, however, I felt a real disconnect between the main character and her boyfriend. In the long run, he really didn't seem to have any sympathy towards her when she lost the child. I felt like he ought to of known/saw how broken she felt due to the loss. Nevertheless, I can even look past that.


The ending however I can't ignore. I mean, come on, Johnathon ended up in one of the towers during 9/11? At this point, that just feels like a cheap copout in the grand 'contemporary books' scheme. Don't use real life trauma and disasters to wrap-up your novel. It's tasteless. Not only that, but he ends up being completely fine and she finds him within a few days in the midst of the chaos that was New York? The only thing to come out of using 9/11 as a plot point was for Annika to realize that she still loved Johnathon and wanted to be with him. That could've been done in a multitude of different ways. Blegh.


All in all, I would still score The Girl He Used To Know a 3.5/5. It's a high score, but the audiobook did keep my interest and helped me get out of a reading funk. The first 3/4 of the book was perfect, it just kept falling down in the last 1/4 and never found it's stride again. 


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