Review: “The One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes

The One Plus One

Rich is paying every single bill on time without thinking about it. Rich is being able to have a holiday or get through Christmas without having to borrow against January or February. Actually, rich would be just not thinking about money all the bloody time.

Jess is a single mother, struggling to make ends meet after her husband upped and left.  In a small English seaside town, she is trying to be both a role model and the best parent she can to her daughter and step-son, all the while working two low-end jobs only to, still, barely cover the bills. Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math prodigy, who solves complex equations all day with their huge dog, Norman, at her feet. Her teenage stepson, Nicky, is forever getting beaten up for expressing his individuality.

Then, a chance to turn their lives around presents itself when Tanzie’s math teacher mentions an upcoming Olympiad, all the way up in Aberdeen, with a generous prize for the winner, which will enable Tanzie to go to a good school. So Jess piles them all up in her husband’s barely-working Rolls Royce and starts driving to Scotland only to be stopped a few miles out of town for driving a car without insurance. Here, a relative stranger steps up and offers to drive them to their destination and thus starts a quite incredible and unexpected journey.

Why does Ed Nicholls, Jess’ boss, volunteer to drive an employee he doesn’t even know very well, plus her carsick daughter, moody stepson and flatulent dog, such a distance? Well, Ed has made a few bad decisions of late which has him facing a lot of trouble. Ed has just been done over by an unstable ex-lover. His family is expecting him for a very important lunch across the country. His ex-wife is plaguing him for more money. His lifelong friend and business partner won’t talk to him and Ed is about to be charged with insider trading.

Told from the shifting perspectives of Jess, Ed and the children, Moyes explores a number of issues facing modern western society today, such as the impact of bullying and antisocial behaviour, family breakdown, the slow erosion of community values and the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. In the given set up, it would have been easy and stereotypical to have a Mr. Rochester-Jane Eyre type relationship develop between Ed and Jess. Instead, Moyes paints her characters more like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy–each equally sharp-witted and neither superior to the other, despite their finances.

Moyes has an unerring sense for the serious as well as for the ridiculous, and The One Plus One shimmers with both unyielding warmth and canny incisiveness. While it captures the desperation exposed by the chasm of income inequality and the horrific aspects of bullying, it also catches the more enchanting elements of life’s rich pageant, from “the magnificence of total strangers”   to that moment when someone first notices the relaxing effect they’re having on another person and experiences the joyful epiphany of realizing that they are exactly where they belong.

This was my first Jojo Moyes novel so I am not going to go on about how this was like (or better than) Me Before You. I will also not compare it to Little Miss Sunshine because that movie annoyed the hell out of me. But I will say that The One Plus One is one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does. But it makes the book all the more hilarious and heartbreaking. All in all, The One Plus One is a likable, not terribly memorable, but a far from simple-minded story.

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100 Sideways Miles BY Andrew Smith

Right. So this was my first e-book on my spanking new Kindle. After beating myself up for going over to the dark side and reading e-books for an hour, I sat down with my copy of widely acclaimed author Andrew Smith’s latest book, 100 Sideways Miles. I wasn’t sure what kind of book this was going to be. The cover has a horse falling from the sky. The blurb acts like a summary of the entire story. However, sceptical yet undaunted, I got down to reading about the adventures of Finn Easton and Cade Hernandez and Julia Bishop.

Now, Finn Easton is one of the strangest protagonists I have ever come across, as he sees the world around him in miles instead of minutes. He lives in the fictional town of Burnt Mill Creek located near the San Francisquito Valley (real) in California. He also suffers from epilepsy and sees ghosts. To top it off, when Finn was little, a large horse fell off a bridge and landed on top of his mother and him, leaving a scar that looks like this [:ǀ:]. This scar is similar to those described by Finn’s father in his bestselling book, The Lazarus Door, as being on the backs of deadly aliens that rape and eat humans. So, poor Finn ends up with an identity crisis of sorts and sets out on a road trip with Cade to figure out the ending of his story.

Finn’s romantic interest, Julia Bishop, is a girl from Chicago hiding a big secret. From the moment Finn sees her, he falls head over heels in love with her. Julia, in turn, gets why Finn named his dog ‘Laika’, bears with his mood swings when he recuperates from his seizures, and, thankfully, she loves him back. However, she must return to Chicago, the very place where she was victim of a tragedy that makes Finn wish he “could push the world back all those miles with my bare hands and make it change direction,” even if it means they’d never have met.

Finally, there’s Cade Hernandez, Finn’s best friend and my favourite character. A god among boys. Confident, attractive, hilarious, audacious, loyal. But even in these moments, you can see how deeply he portrays the truth about adolescent boys. Tobacco-chewing, forever talking about “boners” and shameless when it comes to harassing their apoplectic History teacher, Mr Nossick. I love him. His banter with Finn is excellent and the way he daily comes up with a new way to see how Finn’s scars resemble something sexual (E.g. “What flounders look like when they fuck”) will have you laughing out loud.

The story isn’t describing a grand adventure and neither does it have a huge plot twist. It’s written with a big character, one big voice and a sympathetic experience. I initially thought this book looked weird, wacky, straight up confusing and out of this world. But I never felt that way while actually reading the story. And that’s the beauty of it. The characters are so incredible, realistic and relatable that the story sounds believable from beginning to end. They have their faults, and they make mistakes and they think some of the most incredibly stupid things but they’re also clever and emotional and full of so much potential. Plus, it has one of the most hilarious condom-buying scenes ever written.

 

So don’t be afraid of the horse on the cover. You’ll find something mesmerising inside. If you haven’t read an Andrew Smith story before, this is a great place to start. It’s funny and real and beautiful and you’re going to laugh and you’re going to get emotional and love every minute of it. This is a book for every reader. From chicks who cried over crap like Fault In Our Stars to boys who are too cool to open a book. Anyone who isn’t looking for yet another teen book about love triangles (yes, you), this book is for you.