August 3, 2015

(Netgalley) ARC Review: Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

Two Across
Rating: /5

*I received digital ARC of this book from Netgalley*

Pub. Date: August 4th, 2015

Get a copy here!

Reading the blurb of this book, I was intrigued by the uncommon choice of main characters of the book. And to think that this book is written by male author, it actually makes me think that something about this book might differ itself from other NA books.

I read a lot of NA these past two years and Two Across comes out nothing alike every NA I’ve read before. In fact, I think it’s more like literary fiction ―even if it’s not actually a genre. Two Across covers wide timeline of the whole story. Its main focus is how both main characters with complex characteristics going through some ups and downs in their life together where they learn and discover their true self in the process that at some point changes their perspectives and gives way to a self-introspection in the end. Also, how this book is written is unlike most NA books. To put this book under NA category I think might give away slightly different depiction of the book to the readers.

Two Across is a fiction set in 1960. This is something that the blurb fails to mention about this book. I expected this book would be a contemporary read (what with being shelved as NA) so I was surprised to find out it wasn’t. But I like it! As a historical-fiction enjoyer, I found this time set intriguing and suits the whole plot.

Vera Baxter’s first encounter with Stanley Owens was during National Spelling Bee in NYC on 1960. The two of them competed one on one and ended up winning together in tie. It’s kind of comical how it went on between them. Stanley who at first did not really up to win the competition, felt challenged when he saw the last competitor was the anxious yet eager girl with calm façade; he wanted to win. As words spelled by, Vera began to grow evil mind for the handsome boy who seemed never to fail to spell the given words. Oh boy, it cracked me up when Vera did imagine a car with Stanley on it sailing through a guardrail. That’s when I decided that I like her character. What an interesting-minded girl!

The opening scene of spelling contest is one great way to pull the readers in. The tension and childish mind-battle between two characters make the readers sure that this book would be a one-sitting material alright. I think so, too, and I finished this book in less than a day (which for slow reader like me is actually a big deal).
From there, Vera and Stanley began to meet annually as visiting alumni. They went for a DC trip once and both of them built a good though long distance friendship as Vera’s always on the road following her mom while Stanley’s always in the Hawthorne hotel where his mom seemed permanently fixed there. Until a year after their city trip as the day they would meet again for the third time since the spelling competition, Vera realized that she might develop some special feeling for Stanley. Then the day came and Stanley welcomed her with his usual smile. Unless, this time their annual visit finally became a turning point of their simple relationship into the most complicated relationship ever existed.

For some story, it might always start and end with love. But Vera and Stanley’s story starts and ends with crossword puzzle. Crossword puzzle is the reason Stanley comes up with big reckless idea of fake a marriage with Vera, which Vera agrees to come along and ends up hurting at over and over. But crossword puzzle is also the reason they reunite and reconnect the missing pieces together after such long long years of hide-and-seek. I love this part a lot! It’s really unique, it’s touching, eerily beautiful, and poignant to have such random thing to connect with someone with whom our hearts tied to.

Vera and Stanley are both smart people ―genius, even― yet their lives aren’t as easy as most people would think of them. This book shows that even smart people struggle in life. Unlike not-smart people who know better that not much people want to accept them in a job or a community, but smart people sometimes even have a trouble to accept their self before stepping out to the outside world. Stanley’s having a hard time to accept the fact that he’s academically gifted and might build a really bright career by going through an excellent education system. He wanted something else, something much simpler like being a crossword puzzle creator, though in his case he would definitely be a master of it with ease. I feel so much feeling for both characters. I root for Vera in everything she did to save herself from falling harder. I also sympathize with Stanley for everything he did to save himself from being ‘trapped’ forever. What Stanley did is obviously bad, worst even, but at some parts I guess I could understand his reason. It’s just that his oblivious about Vera’s feeling is damn frustrating. Even after he realized his true feeling, he chose to hold back from saying the truth. But I guess I understand why he chose to do so as well. As for Vera, I never even dislike her for a bit. She might be the one who’s always leaving, but she’s also trying to be the one who want to reconnect the old pieces. I guess that’s what love do to you, not to make you a fool, but to make you a good forgiver. Well, at least that’s how I see it positive way.

Each character in this book is unique in their own way. The characterizations for each of them are done very well. Vera and Stanley are such complex characters whose every action lead the story all the way to the end. I love how thing ends up eventually. Every lies is admitted, every mistakes is forgiven, and every lost is found again. Some people might not like how things end for Vera and Stanley but I’m satisfied enough with them. Really satisfied, even, because I personally think it’s beautiful.

Two Across is beautifully written. Even though I had to go again and again highlighting each rare word to find its definition, I think it’s worth it. This book was a little off at chapter 6 where I felt it’s hard to relate with the circumstance happening to Vera and Stanley but it picks its charm back up on next chapter. The pace is a little slow and there are repetitive scenes at some point but I enjoyed it thoroughly. For a debut novel, this book creates a really good start to introduce the author’s writing style to the readers. Some people might see this book differently than what I write here on my review but all in all, I love it!

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.


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