Monday, May 27, 2013

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I first found out about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith from an article in The Horn Book Magazine. The article was called “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?” and included books by authors John Green, Daniel Handler, and Sarah Dessen (who all do write excellent YA love stories). Smith’s novel was also highlighted, and it sounded like a really cute love story. The cover looked really familiar, and after a bit of digging around I found an old ARC copy that I had (the book was published in 2012) and read it right away.

Seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan is four minutes late for her flight to London. Her dress needs adjusting, she fights with her mom, she loses her cell phone charger, and there’s traffic on the way to the airport. Those four minutes mean that she’s placed on a slightly later flight and has to spend an additional three hours at JFK. While she’s waiting at her gate, she meets Oliver, just a few years older than her and heading to London, too. They find out that they’re in the same row of seats for the flight, and they spend the few hours before their flight getting dinner at the airport and getting to know one another.

When they get on the flight, the kind old lady who mistakes them for a couple gives up her middle seat so that they can sit together, and from there, Hadley and Oliver have nothing else to do but get to know each other over the course of the flight to London.

Smith paces the story well through their conversations, revealing just enough about both Hadley and Oliver at a time. Hadley is going to London for her father’s wedding to a new woman, one that he met while taking a temporary position as a professor in Oxford. She is still angry about the fact that her father left her mother to be with a new woman, one she has not even met, and as a result, Hadley has planned her trip to London to arrive only a few hours before the wedding, and to leave immediately after (even though she is going to be a bridesmaid in the wedding party). Hadley suspects that Oliver is traveling for a wedding as well. He’s a university student in the United States, although his family still lives in England.

The entire story only takes place over the course of about twenty-four hours, as Hadley and Oliver meet at the airport in New York, lose each other in London, and find each other again. It's very self-contained, with only a handful of characters (even with the flashbacks). The only thing that I stumbled over while reading this story was the fact that it’s told in the present tense. I understand that the present tense makes the story much more immediate, and gives the impression of actually happening in real time. However, it’s third person and present tense (“Hadley shrugs” “When he catches up to her”), which really threw me! If it had been present tense and first person, I think there would have been no problem at all, but every once and a while the way the story was told took away from the story for me.

I really enjoyed Smith’s book and was sorry that I took so long in finally getting around to reading it. Hadley and Oliver are such likeable characters, and it was fun to inhabit their twenty-four-hour world together. The book would make such a great movie, and the immediacy and conversation seemed written for adaptation to that form exactly. 

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