Weekend Reading: The Statistical Possibility of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
This is a perfect curl-up-on-the-couch and finish in one sitting novel. Although it’s technically YA, it has enough charm, quirk, wisdom, and romance to satisfy adult readers who don’t usually delve into teenage bookshelves.
It’s Fourth of July weekend, and seventeen year old Hadley is begrudgingly on her way to London for her father’s wedding. “Hadley’s pretty sure that regret is too slight a word to describe her feelings about agreeing to be a bridesmaid, but she’d been worn down by Charlotte’s incessant e-mails and dad’s endless pleas, not to mention Mom’s surprising support of the idea.” On some level, she no doubt wanted to miss her flight. Now, even if her new flight is on time, she will barely make it to the ceremony.
Hadley has never met Charlotte, her step-mother-to-be. But she dislikes her on principle. After all, if her father hadn’t fell in love with Charlotte while teaching at Oxford for a semester, her parents would still be married. Two years have past, but it might as well have happened yesterday. And in just a few hours, she will have to witness their marriage.
Waiting to board the plane, Hadley adjusts her backpack on her lap and a book falls out. Across the aisle of seats, a cute guy retrieves the book and hands it to her. He is Oliver, a Brit, and he is also heading to London.
Hadley has only had one boyfriend, and he is nothing like this guy, “tall and lanky, with tousled hair and startling green eyes.” She wonders if “it is possible not to even know your type – not to even know that you have a type – until quite suddenly, you do?” After lots of banter and getting-to-know-you conversation, we find out that Oliver is a student at Yale. He, too, is traveling for a family occasion.We also find that they are seated in the same row on the plane. And when the third member of the row, a very old lady, assumes they are a couple and offers to switch seats, Oliver and Hadley find themselves with seven hours to continue their conversation. And, as the elderly woman tells them after sharing the fact that she’s been married for fifty-two years: “Fifty-two years can feel like about fifty-two minutes. Just like when you’re young and in love, a seven-hour plane ride can seem like a lifetime.”
Not surprisingly, they talk the entire trip. And when the plane ride comes to an end, “It feels like the last day of school, the final night at summer camp, like everything is coming to an abrupt and dizzying end.”
Jennifer E. Smith has a way of capturing how small things feel so monumental when you’re young, when things happen for a first time, when there is no precedent. When Hadley wonders Is it possible she’s only know him for ten hours?, she brings us all back that time in life when time bends and expands in ways it ceases to do later in life.
At customs, EU citizens are separated from the rest, and Hadley and Oliver are forced to part ways. Even though it’s a normal thing to happen, it feels gut-wrenching – Kate Winslet and Leo on the Titanic sad. At the last minute, he jumps into her line and kisses her: “The line continues to move around them and the customs official gives up for the moment with a frustrated sigh, but Hadley doesn’t notice any of it; she grabs Oliver’s shirt tightly, afraid of being swept away from him.”
But he must go back to his line eventually, and her line is so long that when she finally makes it to the other side, he is gone. And she realizes she doesn’t even know his last name.
Alone in a strange country, without the comfort of Oliver, there’s no avoiding the reason she is a continent away from home: Her father is getting married:
“He’s starting a new life today, a life with someone who’s not Mom – but until now it was only ever just words, the vaguest of notions, the kind of future occasion that seems like it might not ever actually happen, that sneaks up on you like the monsters in childhood stories, all fur and teeth and claws, without any real substance.”
Hadley makes it to the wedding – and through the wedding. But at the end, the sight of her father “stops her cold, splits her right open, wrings her heart out like it’s nothing more than a wet towel.” Because “although all grooms look happy on their wedding day, there’s something in the eyes of this one in particular that nearly takes Hadley’s breath away. It knocks the wind out of her, that look of his, the joy in his eyes.”
And then, unexpectedly, she overhears a guest saying that they have a funeral to go to – in the exact neighborhood where Oliver had been headed. She had assumed that he, too, was traveling for a wedding. But now, she realizes she might have been wrong. “The possibility that Oliver – who spent half the flight listening to her complaining about this wedding like it was a tragedy of epic proportions – might be preparing for his father’s funeral at this very moment is almost too much for her to bear.”
And so she leaves her father’s wedding, not because she can’t deal with it, but because she’s suddenly faced with the possibility of her own life-changing love. With little to go on except a vague sense of direction and a burning need to see Oliver again, she sets off to find him.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a sweet novel that explores the vagaries of fate, while affirming love of all kinds, both familial and romantic.