Title: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Occasionally, there are books that take your breath away. You read the first page and there is a magical click. The book becomes a key, opening a part of yourself that you didn't remember existed. Those rare books that completely click with us as readers; books that go beyond storytelling and delve into artistry. Few authors manage this in a way that hitches my breath. Lani Taylor. Beth Kephart. Melina Marchetta. To infuse such passion with writing artistry is rare, but Jennifer E. Smith has managed to do what these other authors have done. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is an instant love story that avoids being insta-love. If possible, Jennifer E. Smith has managed to prove that there is in fact love at first sight - crazy, complicated, human love that is so much more than lust and physical attraction.
Hadley Sullivan is about to board a plane to London. She isn't heading across the pond to enter a prestigious boarding school. She has no plans of seeing the world or finding the love of her life. Hadley would rather not go on the plane at all, really, but she has no choice in the matter. She's required to attend a wedding. Her father's wedding. A wedding is supposed to be all about romance, but that's not the case when it involves your father marrying his new girlfriend - a girlfriend that resulted in his cheating on his wife. Hadley may have to accept the reality of her father's marital situation, but she doesn't have to be happy about it.
Flying leaves Hadley nervous. She has a fear of it that combines with the fears she has of going to London. The only thing that distracts her is a chance meeting with a boy in the JFK airport. She's already missed her original flight and may be late to her father's wedding, which only furthers along the nerves. Oliver manages to take her mind off of the lighter stresses, introducing himself by attempting to help her with her bags. He's a British boy going back home from college - an Ivy League, naturally. Hadley finds him cute and humorous, and universal coincidence finds the two teenagers sitting in the same row of seats on the plane.
The flight to London leaves the two to talk. And talk. Hadley and Oliver set off a very delicate chain of events in their lives as a result of meeting each other prior to getting on the plane. An old woman allows them to sit next to each other. As the plane begins to take off, Hadley's fear of flying and enclosed spaces threatens to stress her out even more, but Oliver's presence sets her at ease. In the hours that lie before them, the two teens begin a long stretch of conversation that reveals a lot about themselves. Hadley soon finds that, upon her arrival in London, she not only has to deal with matters of family but matters of the heart as well.
When a novel is both literary and a love story, there is a very dangerous territory in which its characters must walk - a 'literary' romance doesn't have the direct emotional relationship that a genre romance does, and the characters often live more with their flaws and extraneous issues while falling in love. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a YA romance that straddles the line between literary and genre - the romance is the focal point of the novel, but a great deal of the novel also focuses on the main character's outside issues and how they relate to her falling in love. Hadley is immediately expressed as a nuanced main character. Her primary issues are in no way related to her own romance or lack of, but instead of her parents and their romantic issues. It's rare to find a YA heroine that is the focal point of a romance, but not directly intent on getting one at the beginning of the novel. It allows Hadley to become more endearing to the reader, and it gives the story a much greater emotional weight that a romantic intent would. The reader instead sees how Hadley is torn between her parents - she loves her father but hates his choices and how they affected their family. She wants to be there for her mother, but has descended with her into an unhealthy emotional spiral due to the grief of losing her father figure and her admiration for him. The progression of Hadley's character and how she latches onto her budding romance with Oliver is remarkable. The reader doesn't see it as instant, inexplicable love but as a symbiotic need between two people struggling to come to terms with things going on in their lives. It reminded me in some ways of Jennifer Castle's The Beginning of After - not so much in the pacing of the love story, but in how the love blossoms from the way two destroyed people need each other to rebuild themselves as new individuals.
Smith's primary focus on Hadley leaves the other characters to be a tad less developed, although they retain a strong level of individuality within the text despite the small page count of the novel. Oliver is the character we see most outside of Hadley, and he's a boy that is understandably easy to fall over. The reader sees that Oliver has wit and intelligence - those boys and their Ivy League colleges - as well as a kind heart. He does the smallest of things that are romantic and vital to the development of his romance with Hadley. Smith develops his character well, making him a boy that is both desirable and mysterious without being a hulking mass of perfection. Oliver keeps things from Hadley and doesn't open as much emotionally upon their meeting, and his reservations cause some problems with the relationship development later in the text - but they also allow Hadley to come to terms with her own issues. They work well as a pair because their problems are different and give insights to the other person in the relationship. As for the other characters, they are surprising in how delightful they are to read about. Smith took a great risk in making Hadley's father and his wife-to-be good people. She refused to make them antagonists in the piece. The characters are both people who are victims of circumstance in their own right, and it becomes a very powerful moment when the reader and Hadley realize that her father cannot be purely hated because of his actions, although they are certainly not easy to forgive or forget about. That kind of thing makes a big difference in novels such as this. It allows them to retain realistic footing, and it also shows just how much they transcend the traditional YA romance cliches in order to bring forth a richer storyline.
What will be the biggest worry for readers will be the actual idea of the novel itself. Many readers today are jaded with the YA idea of instant-love between two people. It's a common plot device in YA romance these days, and it screams of something that writers use to lazily develop a relationship with romantic tension. Smith takes this idea and turns it into something that could be found in real life, however. These characters may fall in love within twenty-four hours, but they do not fall in love instantly. There are many subtle hints and actions that lead up to their attraction and emotional dependency. They have a graceful romance that is in itself a piece of art - one that few people ever truly understand. Yes, some readers will still find it unbelievable, but the majority of them will be amazed at how well this concept was executed. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is more than a story of two people falling in love in a short time period - it is a story of two people discovering that love is not something that can be controlled. Love cannot be doused despite the fact that a parent may be cruel to you or do things that seem impossible to forgive. Love is the very essence by which these two characters discover themselves. Interconnecting that growing attraction with the character growth makes everything about it seem believable and real, and the romance itself is just infinitely charming in its own right.
Smith also uses some other writing techniques that will either make or break the reading experience. Third person present tense is utilized in the novel - which is an admittedly odd adjustment at first - but the prose is rich and meaningful instead of feeling convoluted and awkward, which would be one's initial expectation when almost all third person novels are written in the past tense. There's so much deftness to the language and the sentence structure - everything is provocative and laced with importance. This is more of a literary YA love story than anyone would expect it to be, yet the writing style doesn't ever take away from the simplicity of the love itself. There's no haughtiness to it, instead a graceful style that makes it all too easy for the reader to get lost in the story. Everything plays out in twenty-four hours, so Smith plots everything stunningly. There are no loose ends and no slow spots. Everything is expanded upon to a realistic extent - maybe even more than you would expect considering the twenty-four hour time period - and you really can't put the book down until you get to the end and read the (thankfully happy) ending.
Finding a novel like The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is like finding that one romantic movie that you can watch again and again. This novel is like Sleepless in Seattle or Pretty Woman. There's a romance and a happy ending rolled into a story with complex characters and a unique concept of storytelling. This book is exquisite in craft and execution, and I could only hope that I read more from Jennifer E. Smith in this vein. She has a true talent for taking an impossible question such as, "Can you fall in love at first sight?" and turning it into an entire novel that reflects the reality of love, romance, and life.
Cover: This cover is so gosh-darn adorable, and what's better is that it's also quirky and a little bit complicated. It stands out on the shelves.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Little/Brown and Faye!!)