Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review: The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Title:  The Boy on the Bridge
Author:  Natalie Standiford
Genre:  YA historical fiction/romance
Publisher:  Scholastic
Pages:  234(?)
Acquired via:  ARC received at BEA


Synopsis from  Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia--a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she's been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

As June approaches--when Laura must return to the United States--Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She's only nineteen and doesn't think she's ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn't she take it?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think I must be getting old.  In junior high, even high school, I would have thought this story was so romantic and heartbreaking.  But now (at the wise old age of almost-27), I thought the story was a bit over-the-top and melodramatic, like a soap opera.

The Boy on the Bridge is a romance set in 1980s Soviet Russia, when the KGB reigned supreme, and the food was apparently terrible.  The story focuses on Laura, an American exchange student doing a semester in Leningrad.  While there, she is "rescued" by a handsome, young Russian named Alyosha, and they practically fall in love with each other on the spot.

The Ups
  • The setting/time  -  One of the things I did like about the book was the setting.  I've read very few books that take place in Soviet Russia, so that was very interesting.
  • The concept  -  I think this book had a great concept behind it.  I just felt like it could have been developed more, which would have made the book a better read.
  • The secondary characters  -  I love Laura's friend Karen, way more than I like Laura.  She's a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is friend, and I thought she was the perfect opposite of Laura.  While Laura's got her head in the clouds, Karen's trying to bring her back to Earth and knock some sense into her.
The Downs
  • Laura  -  As a main character, Laura is definitely not my favorite.  She makes some really stupid decisions, she mopes a lot, she's constantly doubting the man who's supposed to be the love of her life, she breaks pretty much every rule.  Overall, she's just an annoying character.
  • The writing  -  In pretty much every writing class I took in high school, we were told "Show; don't tell."  And I felt like this book did a lot of telling.
  • The romance  -  Laura and Alyosha's romance was pretty much insta-love.  They knew each other for what felt like two hours, and suddenly they're madly in love with each other.  No tension, no build-up, just instant love.  I understand why the romance was being rushed on one side, but it was too rushed for it to be believable.
  • The melodrama  -  My biggest problem with this book was that it was so melodramatic.  Every other chapter something crazy and over-the-top was happening.  Or the way Laura and Alyosha would talk to each other was cheesy.  At one point, Laura has to go away for a week, and Alyosha tells her "I will wilt without you."  Wilt without you?  I almost threw the book across the room when I read that line.
The saddest thing about this book was that it could have been so much better.  An extra hundred pages could have made room for more character development and building some romantic tension.  I think that the story felt rushed, and a few more pages could have changed that, or having Laura go to Russia for a whole year rather than one semester would have made the story more believable.  And cutting back some of the melodrama would also have instantly improved the story.

As it is, The Boy on the Bridge was just okay, but it wasn't the most terrible book I've ever read.  It just caused some major eye-rolling.  I still plan to give some of Standiford's other novels a shot, such as How to Say Goodbye in Robot, because I've only heard good things about them.

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