This love story switches back and forth between the two main protagonists, and between two periods in time: 1991 when both were students at University of Illinois, and 2001, when both were living in Chicago.
Jonathan and Annika first meet in the chess club at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Annika has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. Annika is very smart and great at chess, but she has trouble with social skills. She sometimes forgets to look at others for cues about how to act, and copes with anxiety by engaging in repetitive behaviors.
Jonathan is attracted to Annika, both because of her looks and because he can be herself with her. He finds liberating her lack of pretension in herself, and her lack of expectation of it in others.
They begin seeing each other romantically, but something happens to break them up. When the story opens in 2001 they unexpectedly and awkwardly run into each other at a grocery store. We only gradually learn why their relationship ended. What is clear from the beginning however is that they are still attracted to one another after ten years of being apart.
They start dating again, and Annika gets frustrated by her inability to feel comfortable in Jonathan’s investment banking circles. She tells him:
“All I wanted was to show you that I’ve changed. That I’m not the same person I was in college.”
“Well, guess what? You haven’t changed all that much. You’re still the same girl I fell in love with at twenty-two. And here’s a newsflash: I like that girl and always have, and I never once said I wanted her to change.”
Most of the story concerns the unfolding and rekindling of their relationship, with Annika’s needs adding a different spin. Not much else really happens in the story until the very last section, when tragedy strikes. It is then you fully understand the ways in which Annika and Jonathan have affected one another, and the depth of their feelings.
Evaluation: This story stands out for featuring an adult female protagonist with Asperger’s syndrome rather than the usual focus on a male character with that condition. It is also a lovely romance generally.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2019