One Plus One
Jojo Moyes is rapidly becoming one of my go-to authors when certain friends and acquaintances ask me, "What should I read next?" Her novels are not yet terribly well known, although she has now published four in the U.S., but they certainly deserve to be. Her books are nothing particularly heavy, yet she does encounter weightier themes from time to time. Instead, they are a pure delight to read --- sweet yet satisfying, quirky and thoughtful at the same time --- just the thing for people who want a summer read that doesn't insult their intelligence.
"[T]he novel manages to be both sexy and funny simultaneously, and provides an ending that is fulfilling without being entirely predictable."
In her latest, ONE PLUS ONE, Moyes introduces us to Jess Rae Thomas. She's an eternal optimist, despite having been dealt a pretty crummy hand. She's doing her best to keep her small family afloat on two meager paychecks, trying (and usually) failing to make ends meet by tending bar and cleaning houses in a resort town in southern England. What's worse, her ex-husband, Marty, is chronically unemployed and living with his mother, so he can't be expected to pitch in toward child support. Jess's two kids adore her, even though they're going through struggles of their own. Teenager Nicky (actually Jess's stepson of whom she has custody) is constantly beaten up at school and bullied online. Ten-year-old Tanzie is a math genius who's bored out of her skull in public school, but there's no way that Jess can afford even partial tuition at the high-powered private school where Tanzie has been offered a scholarship.
When one of Tanzie's potential teachers alerts her to a mathematics competition happening in Aberdeen Scotland --- with a rather generous cash prize --- Jess knows she has to find a way to help her daughter attend (and maybe win her own tuition in the process). But self-sufficient Jess can't do it all on her own this time. Instead, enter Ed Nicholls, a tech startup genius on the verge of disaster, who has escaped to Southampton while under investigation for insider trading. Eager to escape his exile in vacation hell, Ed offers to chauffeur the young family to Scotland. What ensues is a road trip novel like none you've read before, complete with Facebook hacking, food poisoning, more than a little romantic tension, and a smelly (but heroic) old dog named Norman.
Moyes tells her story through alternating viewpoints, with Ed, Jess, Nicky and Tanzie each contributing their thoughts and impressions to the overall narration. Along the way, the four of them make connections both private and collective about the nature of family, responsibility and trust. What's more, the novel manages to be both sexy and funny simultaneously, and provides an ending that is fulfilling without being entirely predictable. Jess is a heroine for whom readers will be rooting, and her dedication to her "weird" kids (who are also appealing in their own rights) will draw the sympathies of audiences, too.
Take my word for it. Read ONE PLUS ONE, and you, too, will be recommending the works of this continually surprising young novelist to your book-loving friends.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 2, 2014