Title: The Boy on the Bridge
Author: Natalie Standiford (website ★ @natstandiford)
Pub. Date: July 30, 2013
Source: e-ARC via netgalley
Summary: Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia–a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she’s been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?
As June approaches–when Laura must return to the United States–Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She’s only nineteen and doesn’t think she’s ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn’t she take it?
Genre: Fiction, YA/NA
As part of her Russian Studies major at Brown University, Laura Reid enters a study abroad program where she’ll attend a university in Leningrad for six months, completely immersing herself in all Russia has to offer. Initially she dutifully attends every class and only hangs out with her roommates and the other American students. Everything changes the day Laura has a run-in with some gypsies on a bridge. The women nearly force her to give them whatever money she has with her until a boy comes to her aid.
Alexei – Alyosha, to his friends – is an artist and paints movie posters. His love of Western literature, particularly poetry, draws Laura in and soon she’s spending every minute of her free time (and not-so-free time) with him. At first these meet-ups are only to work on her Russian – real Russian, not the formal, stiff language taught in her classes. With each meeting, however, Laura finds herself becoming more and more attached to Alyosha. Each skipping class or missed curfew brings to mind the university’s warnings: don’t fall in love. The Russians are so eager to leave the country they’ll convince an unsuspecting student to marry them in order to gain entry to America. But Alyosha isn’t like that, right?
The Boy on the Bridge started out beautifully. Standiford did a really great job of depicting the bleak and dreary life of everyday Russian citizens. The stark contrast of how the Americans were treated was incredibly eye-opening – in order to gain access to special stores (and buy luxury items like bread, cookies, and coffee), a passport is required. Russians are forbidden to enter hotels and businesses, those are strictly for the foreigners. That said, this book takes place in the early 80s. Apart from some references to cassette tapes and one off-hand remark about Nixon, The Boy on the Bridge could have taken place today. Nothing really screamed ‘Cold War-era Russia.’
Once Laura and Alyosha meet, however, the novel quickly goes downhill – especially toward to end. This is a hard case of instalove, guys. Within a few meetings, they’re in love. Because the students aren’t allowed to be mingling with Russians, Laura has to sneak out to payphones 5+ blocks away to call Alyosha. Soon she doesn’t think twice about skipping her classes and breaking curfew to spend the night at his apartment. He gives her a set of keys and she begins to head over there whenever she feels like it, whether or not he’s home.
At one point in the novel the students are spending the weekend in Moscow. She’s heartbroken at the thought of being away from Alyosha for a few days, but goes anyway. Much to her surprise – and delight – he’s there. It was at this point I went into bitch mode and nearly walked away. When he showed up, she hadn’t even been gone A DAY. He was so upset he took a 500 mile trip to be with her.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Things go from bad to worse and I could have kissed Laura’s roommate during a conversation where she becomes the voice of reason:
“Laura, this isn’t love. Love lets you go on a trip without following you. Love can live without you for a week, knowing you’ll come back.”
“No, it can’t.” The afternoon shadows grew long and cold. In spite of the chill, a heat rose up inside her and flooded her face. “That’s how you know it’s true love. When he can’t live without you.”
Karen shook her head. “That’s how you know it’s obsession. Or something else.”
“What’s wrong with you lately?” Karen asked. “You’ve been so…reckless. You’ll drop anything to see Alyosha. Like you don’t care about anything else.”
While in Moscow Laura sneaks away for the weekend and she travels with Alyosha to his friends’ camp. When she returns she suffers no consequences nor does she care that her grades are seriously slipping – she’s even failing a class. All that matters is a boy. Eventually Laura’s fears turn into reality when Alyosha proposes. He paints a beautiful picture – both figuratively and literally – of them living in a cozy apartment in San Francisco. He’ll be a famous painter and she won’t have to work. They’ll live the American Dream and will always have each other.
Naturally Laura is a little shocked at first. She’s only nineteen and still in school, after all. Alyosha convinces her this marriage is a good thing and his friend married when she was eighteen, so it’s perfectly acceptable! I was so dismayed at the course the book was taking at this point. The beginning was fantastic and I loved every moment. By the halfway mark, however, it was rapidly falling apart and Alyosha’s ‘love’ set off multiple alarms.
The ending wasn’t much of an ending, it simply…stopped. It felt like it was a scene break or the end of a chapter. Despite my feelings toward the second half of the book, I wanted answers and closure and never got that. I don’t see The Boy on the Bridge becoming a series, but I wouldn’t mind a short story about what happened afterwards. Even an epilogue would have sufficed!
While the romance had me doing some major eye-rolling, The Boy on the Bridge had an extremely intriguing setting that I’d like to see more of in YA. I’m still not quite sure if this would be considered New Adult – they’re college age and there are sex scenes, but it’s of the ‘fade to black’ variety. I’m disappointed with the way the story ended, but The Boy on the Bridge was an entertaining and very quick read that I’m sure many readers will enjoy.