Annika is different. Though beautiful, she is extremely shy and constantly unsure of the “right” thing to say or do in social situations. Her heightened anxiety around people means that she sometimes does strange things—and there have been many times in her life when she’s been called out for behaving like a weirdo.
When she finally manages to go off to college (after being homeschooled since 7th grade), she has a tough time. Less than three weeks in, she almost hightails it home. But luckily, she has a caring roommate who genuinely enjoys her quirky personality, and because of it, Annika ends up doing okay. It helps, too, that she finds some activities that keep her calm and focused: mainly reading and chess.
It’s at Chess Club one night that she meets Jonathan. He’s a skilled player, but she wins the first game. Surprised but intrigued, he comes back the following week for a rematch. It’s not easy for Jonathan to crack Annika’s introverted shell, but the two begin to spend more time together and they eventually become very close. The story follows their relationship as it develops, alternating between Annika and Jonathan’s perspectives, both during the early days of their relationship in college, and in the “present” (which in the book is 2001) over five years later.
This is an interesting story. I’ve never met a protagonist like Annika. In fact, when I first started reading this book, I told my husband that I had never identified with a character so much. I honest-to-God felt like someone had followed me around (especially a younger-me) and written a book about it. I could relate to so many of her quirks and fears—from having a hard time holding eye-contact and being unsure of what people are thinking, to being easily overwhelmed by smells and sounds and, here’s the biggie, being completely and fully exhausted by the constant vigilance necessary to watch other people and copy them in an effort to fit in and be normal. It’s so hard to explain what it’s like forever feeling that no matter what environment you’re in, you absolutely don’t belong. Somehow the social norms that seem to come so easily to others just don’t for you.
Of course it eventually comes out that Annika has a specific medical issue she’s dealing with—which, in turn, made me question why I related to this character so much. (I guess I’ll just have to work that out on my own… 😳) But I think the main takeaway here is that, in Annika, author Tracey Garvis Graves paints an exceptional portrait of a full and complete, and maybe slightly tormented, human. The book reads a little cold and distant at times (which I suppose is fitting for Annika’s character…), but it absolutely draws the reader in. I ignored my family for two days while I barreled through it, unable (or really just unwilling) to put it down. Even now, a week later, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking about it.
My only criticism—and I almost took off a full star for this, but, in the end, decided not to—is that the ending is waaaaay outta left field. I mean, like for real. The ending could have been a whole other book in itself, so I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around the what and the why and the huh? It was a little odd.
STILL. The rest of the book was ridiculously good, in my opinion. Significant. I enjoyed it so much that I’m giving it five stars. I don’t know that everyone will love it as much as I did, but this one is definitely worth a read.
Many thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC.