Monday, September 2, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge

The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
3/5 stars
Scholastic Press, 2013
248 pages
YA Historical

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the idea behind this book which follows a college student studying abroad in the USSR in 1982. I studied abroad in Singapore (actually the place where I discovered book blogs and started mine) so have fond memories of the experience though mine was obviously vastly different. For one thing, almost everyone there spoke English so I didn't struggle as much with language barriers as Laura did when she was plopped into Russian culture. For another thing, no one wanted to marry me in order to get a green card to go to America...as I think on it, that's probably the biggest difference.

In case you didn't know, living in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) is living under a totalitarian regime where everyone is potentially spying on you, your apartment might be tapped, and you can be hauled in by the police for any reason they want. Additionally everything is scarce to be found unless you are among a small cohort of Westerners with money to spend in exclusive shops and a passport to get you out of there again. Consequently you can be very popular as happens with Laura who is romanced by the charming Aloysha, an artist who genuinely cares for her and is not at all interested in using her nationality to get him out of there...or is he?

One of the big questions in the book revolves around Aloysha's intentions. Quite frankly, I was always suspicious of him and believed that while he could care for Laura, his caring for himself was preeminent. The book treats his motivations as being more murky to my frustration. I could handle it being either way but the ambiguity was not satisfying to me.

His friends Olga and Roma further complicate his story with their differing perspectives on life in the USSR. Olga is possibly in love with Aloysha herself though married to Roma and her words probably should not be taken seriously. Yet she was also incredibly charismatic and exciting to read about. Saying that, I honestly ended up being more interested in Laura's roommates: fellow American Karen who had a good head on her shoulder and Ninel, a Ukrainian who seems to swallow the USSR philosophy wholesale. There are only tantalizing glimpses of these young women as we hone in on a Laura increasingly obsessed with Aloysha, treating her education casually, and who can't even bring herself to care when she fails.

Though I guess this book is technically New Adult because it follows someone who is nineteen, it did not read that mature to me. That is probably due to Laura's naivety; she seems to be a rather sheltered nineteen who heedlessly ignores pretty much everyone's warning about the possibility of being duped. Due to some content, I think this may be better for slightly older readers but it does not feature the steam I associate with NA nor do I feel like it is entirely distinct from the other YA I regularly read.

Overall: A rather dull heroine and too much ambiguity cloud my impression of this book; though I am excited about the unique setting, it didn't manage to click with me. Perhaps readers who are more into Russian culture will enjoy it.

Other Opinions:
A Reader of Fictions
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves
Forever Young Adult
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Ladybug Storytime!

22 comments:

  1. Great review. <3 But aw. Sorry you didn't enjoy it. Not a book for me, and since you didn't like the main character I probably won't either :) Thank you for sharing :D

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    1. I loved the idea behind this one but just didn't click :(

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  2. I always like it when a YA book is about older characters, because they are easier to identity with - although you say that Laura acts a bit younger. It's not really a book for me, but I'm happy you could enjoy it :)

    Mel@thedailyprophecy.

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    1. Maybe I'm too cynical? I just thought she seemed way younger about the whole situation than I feel I would have been.

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  3. It is too bad that the author made the love interest's motivations unclear. I think it would be interesting to read a book set in Russia during this time period to see what it is like for an American teen to be there but the main character does not sound that exciting either. Other reviews I've read have picked up the same flaws that you mentioned. Kudos to the author though for picking a different setting for YA fiction.

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    1. I hope more authors consider this time period for a setting as I would really like that.

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  4. Well, you and I had exactly the same issues with it. You never find out what Aloysha's intentions are, and I think the book would have been SO much stronger if you had. I also was certain that he was manipulating her. Or, to take the kindest possible interpretation, that he wants to escape so much that he convinces himself that he loves her. Karen would have totally kicked him to the curb :)

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    1. I would have liked more certainty there. Wish we had had more Karen as she was such a kickass woman!

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  5. The setting is intriguing, but not the dull mc

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    1. I love it-YA authors need to bring on the USSR setting!

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  6. This is the first review I've read for this book! I remember coming across it a while ago and being interested in the premise. It's a shame that it didn't totally work for you, but I'm still curious about it, so I'll probably give it a try one day. But I'll be sure to lower my expectations. Thanks for the helpful review!

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    1. I feel like I'm definitely within the majority opinion-lots of people have picked up on the same things as me though there have been those who loved it, if you're really interested in checking it out.

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  7. Wow, I had no idea that the MC was nineteen, and especially since it didn't seem like she was nineteen. I guess that could still be YA. I agree about the setting, it really does have great potential but it sounds like the other parts of the story brought it down.

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    1. It's in a grey area-technically NA I guess and I appreciated that it explored more topics than just sex like some NA.

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  8. Arg, dull heroines just make DNF books!

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    1. Ha-I bet you wouldn't have finished this one. I'm so bad at DNF-ing books and I do feel a great sense of accomplishment when I manage to finish one so usually I persevere.

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  9. This one sounds amazing as far as the setting and story line but the MC being dull is a big negative. Especially since this isn't the first I've heard it. I also like the time period, it's very interesting to me. And I have worked with a lot of Russian's who have told me a lot about their country so I would like to read about it in a semi-contemporary setting (I know it was a long time ago now, but everything else I've read about Russia is 1800's or older). Anyway, it's too bad this one didn't wow more.

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    1. I feel like I've mostly read Russian Revolution and USSR so I need to check out some of those older Russian books obviously. Any recs?

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  10. Hm, it's a shame the ambiguity of the situation wasn't better rendered. That's what we think would make this so compelling. But apparently this story is inspired by events that happened to the author! So, you know, that's pretty interesting.

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    1. I wonder if this was the author's way of working through some issues? I like knowing that it was inspired by real life, which makes the story feel more real but I wish I had felt more from the ambiguity.

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  11. I have this book and plan to read it but most of the reviews I have read echo your misgivings so I have been putting it off. But I am liking the timeframe and setting as a trend in YA fiction:) Plus I'm curious to meet Olga now:)

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    1. Olga is pretty neat-give it a try. You can always DNF if you don't like it...

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