Pub. Date: April 2, 2019
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: Annika Rose likes being alone.
She feels lost in social situations, saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way – she just can’t read people. She prefers the quiet solitude of books or playing chess to being around others.
Apart from Jonathan. She liked being around him, but she hasn’t seen him for ten years. Until now that is. And she’s not sure he’ll want to see her again after what happened all those years ago.
Annika Rose likes being alone.
Except that, actually, she doesn’t like being alone at all.
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
I’m the first one to admit I’m a little hesitant to reach for books that are overly praised. After being let down one too many times by books claiming to be the next big thing, I’ve learned to take these proclamations with a grain of salt. That said, let me be the 500th person to say this book is worth the hype. So worth it. Any book that could have me tearing up over an opossum is something special.
Annika – rhymes with Monica – is extremely particular about the fabric of her clothes. She’d much rather wear a dress two sizes too big than feel the tag up against her neck. She doesn’t understand little quirks and traits that make up everyday conversations, avoids eye contact at all costs, and her overly-direct, matter-of-fact personality can instantly turn people off.
It was her college roommate, a living angel named Janice, who introduced Annika to chess club. It was also at chess club where Annika first met Jonathan, a boy completely unlike any she had ever met. She might not grasp the fundamentals of flirting (or when a boy is just being mean to look cool in front of his friends), but she does understand kindness and Jonathan is nothing but kind.
Ten years later Annika runs into Jonathan, each one knowing they need to talk about their past, but neither one wanting to confront it. Told during their college days in 1991 and their 2001 present, The Girl He Used to Know is about two people who once brought out the best in each other – and whether a second chance will bring them their happily ever after.
OH THIS BOOK. This beautiful book is worth absolutely every bit of praise it’s received. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it’s release date happens to also be World Autism Awareness Day. Though she doesn’t know it at first, Annika has high-functioning autism: she lives independently, can drive, has a master’s degree and a job as a librarian. It’s the little things, like understanding she can’t walk around the college dorm naked (as much as she hates the feel of certain clothes against her skin) or finding certain phrases confusing (her brain is very black-and-white and takes meanings literally) that makes her who she is and, unfortunately, it also makes her seem odd and weird in the eyes of others.
Many times in this book I wanted to reach through these pages to rescue Annika. From the awful girls in grade school to her scumbag boyfriend in college who used her in the worst way. Thankfully, however, these instances were few and far between; Annika had the most amazing support system surrounding her. Friends who took over keeping an eye on her once her was no longer at her parents’ side, Janice and Jonathan, even Annika herself was far more capable than she believed.
I didn’t know much about this book going in and I feel that was the perfect way to read it. I knew Annika had autism and that a chess club was involved. Because of this, I was totally thrown for a loop when capital-S Something happened. There were moments leading up to it where I took notice and when I finally turned the page and realized where in time I was, my stomach sank. As I mentioned in the beginning, I teared up over an animal. What happened later on in this book had me both ugly crying and cheering for Annika like I’ve never cheered for another fictional character. I was so unbelievably proud of her in these scenes. Naturally I ugly cried even harder.
The Girl He Used to Know is such a special, lovely, heartfelt, gem of a novel. I knew only the bare bones going in and that worked to my benefit: it made everything that came after hit that much harder (for good AND bad). I won’t be at all surprised to see this book pop up on year end Best Ofs lists and all the popular Beach Reads recs. Do yourself a favor though – don’t wait until vacation or the end of the year to read this one. My only regret if not having read anything else by Tracey Garvis Graves before now.