Every time I read a Jojo Moyes book, I'm surprised how easily I get swept up in the drama of her characters. And believe you me, I do *not* self-identify as a reader of romantic fiction. One Plus One is a start-and-finish-in-one-day kind of read and it had all the right elements to be a very satisfying one, too: a maths geek nerd girl & a mascara-wearing teenage boy (and the bullies who target both of them), a large and slobbery black dog of indeterminate origin, a road trip, a man and woman from opposite ends of the economic spectrum, and a Good Samaritan gesture that changes all of their lives.
This novel provides a stark contrast between the lives of the haves and have-nots of England. Ed Nicholls (Mr. "I'm Not Rich" because he owns only two homes, two cars, but no private jet) pulls over to the side of the road one night to offer help to a woman stranded with her two kids, and it turns out to be Jess, who cleans one of his houses a few hours each week.
They were on their way to Scotland for her daughter, Tanzie, to compete in a Maths Olympiad in a Hail-Mary move to win the prize money to pay for the 10% of tuition and fees for St Anne's school. She'd been given a scholarship covering 90%, but even at that, Jess couldn't come up with a downpayment on the remaining portion. She works two jobs, they live in estate housing, and every day the bullying from a neighbor escalates a little against her stepson Nicky, and it's only a matter of time before Tanzie becomes a target, too. She's afraid for her children, and each month she must choose which bills to pay because she cannot pay them all.
I'm sure you get the picture. Anyway, Ed sees them by the side of the road and offers, without really thinking it through, to drive them to Scotland. Which would be fine, except that Tanzie turns out to get carsick if she's in a car going faster than 40 mph, so what could have been driven in one day turns into three days as they make their way to Aberdeen on backroads, the two kids crammed into the backseat along with Norman the slobber hound with a terrible tendency towards flatulence. In other words, it's a situation primed for high drama and low comedy, and Moyes makes use of both.
The endgame is, I admit, fairly predictable, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed this book any less for the diversions it provides: the Spectacle Emergency, the Sandwich Breaks, the Facebook Hacking-as-Revenge Scene, and a rather nail-biting Situation Involving Tanzie, the Dog, and a Gang of Bullies. As the saying goes, I laughed, I cried, and in this case, I enjoyed being along for the ride. Reading this book was the perfect diversionary tactic before jumping back in to read all of the stuff I'm supposed to be reading for work.
I'll conclude with one excerpt that I think gives a good feel for the writing. It comes from one of Ed's chapters, after he's just enumerated at length some of the possible outcomes for himself if he got involved with Jess:
And none of theses considered that Jess had actual kids, kids who needed stability in their lives and not someone such as he: he liked children as a concept, in the same that that he liked the Indian subcontinent -- that is, it was nice to know it existed, but he had no knowledge about it and had never felt any real desire to spend time there.
And all this was without the added factor that he was obviously crap at relationships, had only just come out of the two most disastrous examples anyone could imagine, and the odds of his getting it right with someone else on the basis of a lengthy car journey that had begun because he couldn't think of how to get out of it were lower than a very log thing indeed.
And the whole horse conversation had been, frankly, weird (p. 195).NB: I read an advance reading copy of this book provided at my request from my publisher's sales rep. It has already been published in the UK, but it will be published in July of this year in the US by Pamela Dorman Books, a division of Viking.