I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The year is 1960. At the age of 15, both Stanley Owens and Vera Baxter tie for first place in the annual National Spelling Bee. Stanley lives with his mother in a suit at the hotel where the competition occurs. Vera’s official residence is in New York, but she and her mother travel all over the country for her mother’s job. Two years after the big tie, Stanley and Vera reconvene at the Bee and a friendship forms. As graduation from high school approaches, Vera prepares herself to go to Harvard and major in mathematics. Stanley is also Harvard-bound, but not of his own choice – he’d prefer to not go to college and instead spend his time creating crossword puzzles and submitting them to various papers. Rather than admit this to his mother, Stanley hatches a scheme so that he can pretend to go to college, when in reality he would live on his own and create crosswords. Stanley fake-marries Vera at the hotel, sells all the wedding gifts they receive, and splits the cash between them. Easy-peasy, right? Too late does Stanley realize Vera was in love with him, and only then does he realize he loves her back. But is it too late to make things right?
Phew. It is really hard to summarize this novel due to the fact that it spans over a decade of Stanley and Vera’s life. In other words – a lot of shit happens. But hey, that’s life.
Two Across is the beautifully honest debut from author Jeff Bartsch. It’s told in third-person omniscient and tells the tale of Stanley and Vera. I loved these two characters, despite their flaws and shortcomings. I was rooting for their love throughout the entire story. The novel is not heavy with dialogue; rather, it gives us more the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters. Typically I grow bored if there’s not much dialogue in a novel, but that is not the case with this one. The story enthralled me from start to finish. It was so satisfying to follow Stanley and Vera’s lives over the span of so many years. I connected so easily with these characters and grew crazily attached. It was great to watch them grow physically and mentally; I felt like a mom watching her children age and thinking oh, my babies!.
There were a lot of life lessons to be learned from this novel. The main theme I picked up on was truth. There were a lot of lessons to be learned from lying. Stanley and Vera learned a lot about being true to others, which starts with being true to yourself. It’s not always easy to do. Sometimes, you just have to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s what makes you, you. It all sounds horribly cliché when I say it, but trust me, Bartsch words it all a lot better.
By the end of the novel, I was crying. Over the years it seems like it takes less and less for a book to make me cry. It was just so frustrating to follow these characters for years (book years, that is) and then have it end that way. It was a satisfying end in a way, but at the same time, I just wanted to yell at the author. It was a great lesson, but it was painful. I hate the painful lessons. But typically, those are the most important ones to learn.
I definitely recommend you guys check out this book when it comes out – you won’t regret it. I only regret it a little because it broke my heart. Also because I downloaded a crossword puzzle app on my Kindle and have become addicted. I’ve completed 4….out of 400. Thanks a lot, Mr. Bartsch.
Favorite Quote(s)*: “I don’t want to study anymore. I was to retire from it. To be totally honest, I want to retire from life.”
“She wanted to be chosen from among all the billions of people on the planet as the exceptional one. She wrote about how she was looking for a boy to be absolutely obsessed with her. That was the kind of love her wanted. She wanted a man to spend his life solving her and proving her like a theorem.”
“But the universe doesn’t come to our rescue, now, does it. Fate will never intervene on your behalf. You are yours and yours alone to save.”
*I read and reviewed and ARC edition of the novel – if anything is misquoted in comparison to the published version, please let me know.