You don’t have to know a thing about math or physics or emergence theory to love this newest book by Jojo Moyes, but if you do, it enriches the experience, since Moyes takes the idea of emergence theory and turns it into a love story.
As one of the characters in the book explains, according to the theory of emergence, there are systems in which the sum of a number can be different than just an accumulation of “one plus one.” At some point, adjacent bodies start affecting each other in such a way that a new entity emerges that can’t be anticipated by looking at each part alone. In this book, a blended group of people – two adults and two kids with different parents – come together and become something more; they become a family.
Jessica (“Jess”) Thomas, 27, is a single mom who lives outside London and is struggling to raise two kids – Tanzie, who is ten, and Nicky, who is 16. Nicky is the son of Jess’s ex and his ex-wife, but Jess loves Nicky and is the best hope he has for a good family.
Jess has her hands full. Nicky is smart and kind but he is different – a bit Goth. He is being bullied relentlessly by schoolmates who torment him both psychologically and physically. Nick has closed himself off in response, and Jess hasn’t been able to break through to him. Tanzie is a math prodigy, and has been recommended for a special school, but even though Jess is working two jobs, there is no way she can swing the tuition. She fears that not being able to pay for the school will break Tanzie’s heart. Jess feels totally out of her depth.
Nevertheless, Jess is relentlessly positive, always insisting to her kids that somehow, things will work out. She hears about a Math Olympiad in Scotland that offers monetary prizes, and thinks that if Tanzie can win, it might pay for the tuition. But when Jess tries to take the kids there on a road trip, everything starts to go wrong … that is, until Ed Nicholls (for whom Jess does house cleaning) arrives on the scene. At first, it looks as if they might all be able to rescue each other.
Ed, 33, has plenty of his own problems, including having had an ill-advised relationship with very bad unanticipated consequences. He thinks he is “obviously crap at relationships” and Jess thinks she doesn’t have room in her life for anyone else. But you know where this is going … except it might not; Jess does something to betray Ed’s trust, and in any event, Ed may be going to prison for insider trading. Tanzie’s glasses break just before the Olympiad. And in spite of the fact that Nicky ended up in the hospital after the last time he got beat up, the boys who did it were not prosecuted. They are still at large, and creating havoc via Facebook. Even Norman, Tanzie’s beloved dog, has gotten into big trouble.
Evaluation: This is such a delightful book, and as usual, Moyes displays terrific skill with dialogue and character development, as well as with her insight into relationships. I alternated between laughing out loud, and brushing aside tears. Highly recommended!
Published by Pamela Dorman Books, a division of Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2014
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