Browsing Barnes and Noble last year, I spotted The Girl He Used to Know on the shelves. The cover held a certain familiarity because I’d seen it filling up my Instagram feed for months. The cover, a watercolor of a woman facing away, is pretty and captivating. Alas, I bought the book and then it gathered dust on my shelves. I wanted to pick it up, but I just never did. Using the Libby app, I got the audiobook and listened to it on my commute. The story was captivating, and I immediately felt bad that I had never picked up the book. This seems to be a theme lately, so I’m glad audiobooks force me to get through books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t picked up.
This book tells the story of Jonathan and Annika, two people who feel deeply in love in college but had a rather traumatic break up that left a slew of unanswered questions. Ten years later, they spontaneously run into each other in Chicago, where they are both living. Shaken, Annika tells Jonathan she will call him for him so they can meet for coffee. Jonathan seems closed off to rekindling any romance, but says he looks forward to her call – all while fully expecting her not to call.
What initially feels like a simple story about second chances and learning to love yourself before you can love another becomes a complex story with unexpected twists. An exploration of living on the autism spectrum, this story is heartwarming, deeply sad at times, and ultimately about facing the things that scare us most. As someone with a family member on the autism spectrum, I appreciated the in-depth look at how living with autism affects a person’s ability to navigate complicated relationships. Annika’s character is well-developed and heartfelt.
In this story, I most appreciated the sentiment that sometimes the reasons that others gawk are the very reasons someone loves us so deeply. A bluntness, some unfiltered honesty, et cetera. The things that comprise the contours of our personality make us who we are, whether we are on the autism spectrum or not, and it is the very things that make us who we are that will lead another person to love us. However, if we don’t know ourselves, we cannot find peace with who we are, and if we don’t have peace with who we are, it’s hard to accept someone’s love.
The ending of this story nearly ruined it for me. There was a twist that felt a bit out of place, and I felt the story would be stronger without it. I wasn’t sure why it was necessary because it didn’t add much plot or character development to the story, but I like the rest of the story enough that I can overlook a rather unsatisfactory ending.