The Girl He Used To Know by Tracy Garvis Graves is a love story about a couple that meets in college, breaks up, and then reunites 10 years later after a chance meeting in Chicago. Annika and Jonathan become friends in 1991 at the University of Illinois through the chess club. Annika, a senior, is socially awkward (later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum) and has trouble interacting with others. She prefers to stay home reading and volunteer at the animal shelter instead of spending time with other students. Yet when she and Jonathan develop a rapport after playing some chess games against each other, their relationship slowly begins to build into something more.
The Girl He Used To Know alternates between 1991 and 2000, when Annika and Jonathan reconnect. They’ve been apart for a decade, and again, it takes a while for them to rebuild trust and comfort with each other. Graves teases out the telling of the past, explaining what drove Annika and Jonathan apart and how they spent the intervening years. When they meet again, a lot of feelings remain just under the surface, needing – ultimately – a crisis to raise them again.
I enjoyed The Girl He Used To Know quite a bit. It’s a quick read, but it’s not necessarily a light one. I was intrigued by Annika and Jonathan’s relationship – could he get the affirmation he needed from Annika, given her challenges reading emotions in others? Could she, despite her autism, understand what Jonathan needed and muster the emotional energy to give it to him when he needed? I was intrigued by this dynamic, and it kept me interested in the story. The Girl He Used To Know also gave me insight into the mind of someone with autism, more fully than other books I’ve read with autistic characters.
Graves took her novel in a direction at the end that I wasn’t expecting and that I found surprisingly poignant.
The Girl He Used To Know was a memorable and satisfying read and I’m glad I picked it up.