Published by St. Martin's Press on 2nd April 2019
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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 Girl He Used to Know’ is told in a series of flashbacks and switches in both protagonists’ POV, and is pretty much a slow-moving, meditative sort of piece on love, loss and love-regained in the decade when the face of terror changed the world. That doesn’t quite come into play until the end however, as Tracey Garvis Graves places a hyper-focus on the unlikely pairing of Annika and Jonathan from college and how they navigate the tricky waters of a developmental disability that has the former’s inability to deal with social situations, social cues and instinctively-learned behaviours.
For the longest time, I only had the inkling of Annika having done something a decade ago, but the crawl towards that moment is a slow one, as is her equally slow get-together with Jonathan, interspersed with her desperation to make amends and pick up where they left off the moment she bumps into him all these years later.
The serendipity play aside (meeting again and then just taking things up felt like the jigsaw puzzle coming back together too easily for me), the narrative coasted along quite slowly for me—I did find myself skimming some bits—without too many spikes and valleys, which left me not knowing what direction the plot was going to go in. Despite having taken days to finish this, it did get better though; things picked up towards the end but ended abruptly on a note that actually led to some furious screen-tapping because I literally thought my ARC was missing a chapter or two.
In the end, this turned out to be a middling read despite the earnest love story between two everyday characters. I was engaged at times, less at others, but was ultimately left scratching my head at a conclusion that felt as though Garvis-Graves simply threw down her pen and left the book incomplete.