I absolutely cannot resist reading books set in Russia. Granted, I prefer imperial Russia to the USSR, but still, I will read the heck out of any book with that setting. The latest book to come across my Kindle with that setting is The Boy On The Bridge by Natalie Standiford. It’s sort of a historical fiction book about a girl in college named Laura who is doing a semester abroad in Leningrad. It takes place in the early 80s and to me, really captured the desolation of the time period. AND does one of my favorite things — which is when a young adult book goes outside of America and the character is American and has to do cultural examination.
19 year old Laura spends a semester abroad in Leningrad, Russia in the hopes of improving her Russian and really taking the culture in. She’s made great friends with the other people in her dorm, Dorm 6. However, she’s still experiencing Russia as a tourist and not getting a feel for the real country. One day, Laura is crossing the bridge back to her dorm, alone, when she is accosted by some gypsies. A young man named Alyosha comes to her rescue and soon, the two develop a fast friendship as they teach one another their respective languages. This relationship becomes all consuming as Laura begins to miss curfew and classes just to spend more time in Alyosha’s arms, and so the true question of The Boy On The Bridge is, does Alyosha really love Laura or does he see her as a ticket out of Russia? I mean, it is a pretty restrictive society in 1982 and all.
Standiford paints a character who is kind of timid in Laura. I mean, this girl comes across as someone who has not really found her way yet. I thought Laura lacked a certain self confidence that I like to see. I mean, she was scared to tell the gypsies off — which okay it does bother me that gypsies are portrayed in a bad light, but whatever. Anyways. Laura yearns for something more than her average American life. She wants adventure. She wants romance. She wants passion. And well, it seems like Alyosha can give her all of that. However, she really just makes a lot of bad life choices because of him and that’s something you’ll certainly feel as you are reading the book. I guess it’s hard for me to discuss her outside of the romance because it’s so central to the book. Needless to say, in The Boy On The Bridge, Laura does grow as a character, it’s just a very slow sort of learning process for her.
Y’all when I say the romance in The Boy On The Bridge is all consuming, I mean it. I am not just being a cynical old person. Seriously, this girl gets bad grades because she is so obsessed with Alyosha. She is so convinced that he loves her and that their romance is super special, when it is not. Of course, the whole time I am thinking to myself girl you cannot trust this dude, you just met him, he’s bad news and come on there should be some alarm bells there. But not everyone is street smart, so yeah, Laura gets sucked in. I will admit, some of the things he does for her are swoonworthy, like his Women’s Day present (FYI this is like Valentine’s Day, only females get presents). And like, there’s some fade to black sex scenes. There’s a lot of kissing. But just the whole time, my alarm bells were going off and I kept waiting for Laura’s alarm bells.
I have to say that while I was not won over by the romance, while I did not find Alyosha to be swoonworthy in the least, I did enjoy Standiford’s writing. The book is even paced and is a one day sort of read. There’s this mood of heaviness over the whole thing — I mean the writing is simple and not overly adorned. However, the whole time reading I just had this big feeling of dread inside me because you know, I feel dread when people are making bad life choices. I thought she really captured how nuts it must have been to live in a country where people tattle on you just to get ahead. I felt kind of suffocated while reading and you guys I LIKE THAT. I like getting emotions and into the mood. So, while I do not recommend this for the romance one bit, I do recommend it for the mood. Definitely give The Boy On The Bridge a shot and go in with an open mind y’all.
Disclosure: Review Copy Provided By Publisher Via Netgalley