Why I wanted to read it: I wasn’t as excited about reading this as I was for her other books. Fangirl didn’t do anything for me at all. And while I liked Beth and Jennifer in Attachments, Lincoln didn’t impress me that much. And this one? About a fifteen-year-old marriage in trouble, its complications corrected through conversations held via magic phone calls? I was wary. I wasn’t going to buy it. I’m really glad I did.
What I liked: Neal trimmed the trees. Neal kept tulip bulbs in the refrigerator and sketched garden plans on the back of whole foods receipts. He’d pour over seed catalogs in bed and make Georgie choose which plants she liked best.
“Purple eggplant or white eggplant?” He’d asked her last summer.
“How can you have a white eggplant? That’s like… purple green beans.”
“There are purple green beans. And yellow oranges.”
“Stop. You’re blowing my mind.”
“Oh, I’ll blow your mind. Girlie.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
He’d turned to her then, pen cap in his mouth, and cocked his head. “Yeah, I think so.”
Georgie looked down at her old sweatshirt. At her threadbare yoga pants. “This is what does it for you?”
Neal smiled most of a smile, and the cap fell out of his mouth. “So far.”
Neal… She’d call him tomorrow morning. She’d get through to him this time… Time zones weren’t on their side. And he was pissed with her. She’d make it better… Morning glories, Georgie thought to herself just before she fell asleep (pp. 43-44).
But that’s the thing, Georgie–he isn’t friendly. He growls at people, literally, if they get too close.”
“He doesn’t growl at me,” she said.
“Well, he wouldn’t.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Because you’re a pretty girl. You’re probably the only pretty girl who’s ever talked to him. He’s too stunned to growl” (pp. 76-77).
“He was mad when he left, but–I think he’d tell me if he was leaving me. Don’t you think he’d tell me?” she was asking it seriously.
Heather made a face. “God, Georgie, I don’t know. Neal’s not much of a talker. I didn’t even know you were having problems.”
Georgie rubbed her eyes. “We’re always having problems.”
“Well, it doesn’t ever look like it. Every time I talk to you, Neal is bringing you breakfast in bed, or making you a pop-up birthday card.”
“Yeah.” Georgie didn’t want to tell Heather that it wasn’t that simple. That Neal made her breakfast even when he was pissed; sometimes he did it because he was pissed. As a way to act like he was present in their relationship, even when he was chilled through and barely talking to her (p. 106).
Christmas 1998. They fought. Neal went home. He came back. He proposed. they lived not-exactly-happily ever after. Wait, was that what she was supposed to fix? The not-exactly-happy part? How was she supposed to fix something like that, over the phone, when she wasn’t even sure it was fixable?
Christmas 1998. A week without Neal. the worst week of her life. The week he decided to marry her. Was Georgie supposed to make sure that he didn’t? (p. 113).
“You could do this for a living,” Georgie said one night at The Spoon, before they even started dating.
“Entertain you?” Neal said. “Sounds good. How are the benefits?” (p. 117).
Georgie had gotten that far into her imagining–to Neal spooning with his more-suitable-than-Georgie wife–when she imagined Neal’s second-chance kids in this second-chance world. Then she slammed the door shut on all his hypothetical happiness. If the universe thought Georgie was going to erase her kids from the timeline, it had another fucking thing coming (p. 122).
“I don’t want to go out with Jell-O instant pudding,” Georgie said.
“I would marry Jell-O instant pudding.”
Georgie rolled her eyes. “I want to go out with Mikey.”
“I thought you wanted to go out with Jay Anselmo.”
“Jay Anselmo is Mikey,” Georgie explained. “He’s the guy in the life cereal commercial who hates everything. If Mikey likes you, you know you’re good. If Mikey likes you, it means something” (p. 136).
Neal would stir in his sleep and reach for her hips, pulling her back onto the bed. “What are you looking for?”
“Paper,” she’d say, leaning off the bed again. “I have an idea I don’t want to forget.”
She’d feel his mouth at the base of her spine. “Tell me. I’ll remember.”
“You’re asleep, too.”
He’d bite her. “Tell me.”
“It’s a dance,” she’d say. “There’s a dance. And Chloe, the main character, will end up with one of her mom’s old prom dresses. And she’ll try to fix it to make it look cool, like in pretty in pink, but it won’t be cool; it’ll be awful. and something embarrassing will happen at the dance to ‘Try a Little Tenderness.'”
“Got it.” Then Neal would pull her back into bed, into him, holding her in place. “Dance. Dress. ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’ Now go back to sleep.”
And then he’d push up Georgie’s pajama shirt, biting her back until neither of them could go to sleep. And then, eventually, she’d drift off with his hand on her hip and his forehead pressed into her shoulder. She’d get out of the shower the next morning, and it would be written in the steam on the mirror:
Dance. Dress. Try a Little Tenderness (p. 140).
“I’ve wanted a Crayola caddy since 1981,” Georgie said. “It’s all I asked Santa Claus for, three years in a row.”
“Why didn’t your parents just buy it for you?”
She rolled her eyes. “My mom thought it was stupid. She bought me crayons and paint instead.”
“Well–” He lowered his eyebrows thoughtfully–“You could probably have mine.”
Georgie punched his chest with their clasped hands. “Shut. up.” She knew it was stupid, but she was genuinely thrilled about this. “Neal Grafton, you have just made my oldest dream come true.”
Neal held her hand to his heart. His face was neutral, but his eyes were dancing (p. 148).
And it won’t be the same if you have kids with some other, better girl, because they won’t be Alice and Noomie, and even if I’m not your perfect match, they are. God, the three of you. The three of you. When I wake up on Sunday mornings–late, you always let me sleep in–I come looking for you, and you’re in the backyard with dirt on your knees and two little girls spinning around you in perfect orbit… and they look like me because they’re round and golden, but they glow for you (p. 164).
When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems (p. 201).
Neal always held her hand during take off and turbulence… Sometimes he didn’t even look up from his crossword, just reached out for her when the plane started to shake (p. 275).
But these are the little things. There’s pages and pages of goodness… things that are MUCH too good to put here. Things I want you to read for yourselves. You’re gonna love Neal. He’s a pretty cool dude.
What sucked: I’m not so much a fan of Georgie’s name. One of my friends, when I read her some excerpts, she said she liked Neal, but not so much Georgie. That her name ruined it for her. And yeah… I sure wish Ms. Rowell had chosen something else to call her, but… what makes me like Georgie is that she was smart enough to recognize all the good in Neal when so many others could overlook him.
Having said all that: I loved this book. Probably more than Eleanor and Park. And I LOVE that one, so…
Originally published July ninth, ‘fourteen.