Annika Rose is a girl with the face of Caroline Bissett Kennedy and a brain that can devour the best chess players. She is, however, unusual. She doesn’t have the instinctive social skills that she sees others around her exercising. She’s just not sure what to say, how to dress, how to interact. So she does what she’s comfortable with: takes care of wounded animals and loses herself in books.
At the instigation of her understanding college roommate, Janice, Annika goes to a meeting of the chess club and there meets Jonathan Hoffman, who becomes her friend, then lover, and finally, the man whose heart she breaks.
When The Girl He Used to Know opens, Annika and Jonathan are bumping into one another for the first time in ten years in the frozen foods section of a grocery store.
[T]hough I often struggle to recognize people out of context, there’s no need for me to question whether or not it’s him. I know it’s him. My body vibrates like the low rumble of a faraway train and I’m grateful for the freezer’s cold air as my core temperature shoots up. I want to bolt, to forget about the strawberries and find the nearest exit. But Tina’s words echo in my head, and I repeat them like a mantra: Don’t run, take responsibility, be yourself.
If the set-up sounds familiar, it’s because it’s inspired by Dan Fogelberg’s song Same Old Lang Syne according to Ms. Graves. (Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/kmZ2VHSkVYY ) I’m a big fan of that song, so the book and it’s premise of a “second-chance love story” appealed to me. I picked up the paperback during a Target run without knowing anything more about it, though it’s been well-reviewed.
The Girl He Used to Know time-travels between Annika and Jonathan’s undergrad years at the University of Illinois and their second chance time when Jonathan has returned to Chicago from his job on Wall Street. Annika too has her dream job, working as a librarian at the Harold Washington Library. Though initially reluctant to have his heart mangled a second time, Jonathan finds he still cares a great deal about Annika. Annika has worked hard to understand both herself and the reactions other people have toward her, and she wants to please Jonathan with these changes.
“All I wanted was to show you that I’ve changed. That I’m not the same person I was in college.” She sounds defeated.
“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.”
. . . “I try so hard to fit in. I spend hours studying appropriate behaviors.” She makes little air quotes around the last two words. “I will never get it right! Do you know what that’s like? It’s the most frustrating thing in the world.”
Falling in love, second chance love, challenging love. The Girl He Used to Know guides the reader on these challenging journeys. The last fifty pages of the novel take a turn I completely did not anticipate, though there were hints. During these pages, Annika must undertake a journey to prove to herself how she’s changed and to prove to Jonathan that she is willing to fight for their love.
It’s a great choice for a Valentine read.
Stuffed Shells, Cheesecake and Italian Cherry Soda – Annika’s favorite dinner at Trattoria #10 — a real place at 10 N. Dearborn in Chicago. http://www.trattoriaten.com/about
Pizza & Beer, being parts of this novel occur in college, the beer and pizza are unavoidable. Jonathan takes Annika on a picnic with sandwiches and chips and lemonade. There’s a Christmas dinner with baked chicken and Annika’s brother enjoys eating Christmas cookies with a beer.
Stuffed Shells. This is one of my favorite dishes from my mother (Irish-American with not an Italian gene in sight, but it’s very good!)
Boil 4-6 quarts of water. When boiling add a teaspoon of salt and then one box of pasta shells. Boil in water for 9-10 minutes.
Drain 1/13 cups ricotta cheese in a strainer for a few minutes. After it’s drained, add it to a bowl with 1 eg, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 cup cooked fresh spinach (squeezed dry and chopped), 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
When shells are al dente, strain and rinse with cold water.
Prepare a baking pan or two by putting tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan to cover.
Then take a spoon and stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture, please in a baking pan (stuffed side up), until pan is full. Cover in tomato sauce — we do this in drizzle pattern, not a drowning. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, until bubbly. YUM.
I thought I’d put together a playlist of second chance at love songs. There’s some golden oldies here!
Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg
Working My Way Back to You Girl, The Spinners
If You Leave Me Now, Chicago
Against All Odds, Phil Collins
Reunited, Peaches & Herb
I want You Back, Jackson 5
Baby Come Back, Player
Back in My Arms Again, The Supremes
Annika Margot Robbie/Cara Delavigne
Jonathan Liam Hemsworth
*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.
Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!