Sunday, March 31, 2013

You Are Here

Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: 2009
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Emma and her neighbor Peter are both lonely in a way that only bothers them on occasion. They both come from families they don’t quite understand. They both feel like something big is missing from their lives—and they’re both about to search for answers. When Emma makes a discovery that shakes the foundations of her identity, she convinces Peter to join her for a road trip. Each of them has something to find: For Emma, it is a grave—a grave that may be her only connection to her family. Peter is seeking something harder to define, but perhaps easier to navigate—a freedom, a sense of something more than what he has. Together, they take to the open road, engaging in a universal quest to make sense of who they are and where they come from…and learning a thing or two about love along the way.
I read this because of Jennifer's more recent book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. In that book, I was overwhelmed by the honesty of the character's feelings, and I felt like I was experiencing their momentous and spontaneous decisions and choices along with them. You Are Here is no different.

Peter and Emma are both misfits, but both of them don't realize just how much of their own doing this is. Peter at least has some sense of his problems in a wider context - he keeps responding to Emma's complaints about her family that "most families are like that." But Emma is safely ensconced in her misery in thinking that she is the most unfortunate person in the world because she doesn't fit into her family. By the end of the book, by the end of their journey, they both learn - with a lot of mishaps and starts-and-stops - how to break out  of the cycle of loneliness they've built around themselves.

Oddly enough, I identified with both Peter and Emma though they are supposedly very different. I recognized Emma's feeling that she was born into the wrong family, but it was for Peter's reasons that I was able to see myself in her - that he is interested in knowledge and education and seeing the world more than his family. It's odd because that is precisely what Emma sees as her non-fitting-in - that her whole family is smart and overly educated. But combining the two, I found myself in there.

Emma ends up being a lovable but self-centered character. You root for her even when she is making the most selfish decisions, even when she uses Peter for days at a time, never once stopping to think about his life, wrapped up in her own woes. You wonder at times why Peter likes her, what he sees in her - but by the end of the journey, you understand why he likes her. As he says, he knows her. And of course, by the end Emma changes and begins to see the world around her, not just herself.

Peter's quirkiness is immediately endearing. His obsession with maps seems strange and possibly OCD-ish at first, but I quickly came to understand what it stands for, what it's symbolic of, and began rooting for him too. His journey is much more subtle than Emma's, but it's maybe even more moving. Emma sees her family in a different light, but Peter begins to see himself in a different light.

That's what I love most about this book. It's not only about finding and understanding love. It's also about finding and understanding yourself - like stumbling across the signs that say "You are here."

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