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Publisher: Scholastic Press
Source: Publisher provided through Netgalley
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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?The Boy on the Bridge is one of those books I don't really know how to react to. I wanted to read it because I thought it'd be a cute little romance set in an interesting time and place, one we don't see often in YA books. I don't know how I expected it to end, but I certainly didn't like how it did end. But that's not really where my problems with the book lie, but instead my problems stem more from the weirdness of the relationship between Alexei and Laura and the ending.
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?
When American student Laura, who is studying in Leningrad for the semester, meets Russian artist Alexei--who goes by Aloysha--she quickly falls in love, both with him and the Russia he shows her. This sounds cute, right?? And it is, at first. Laura is in awe of the cute artist boy who seems so earnest and truthful, overeager even. But their relationship progresses into love so quickly. Instalove is not something that bothers me all that often; many times, I can really see why the relationship works. But, in this case, it is only possible that Laura falls in love with the idea of Aloysha. Their worlds are so different, and she only sees a glimpse of how he lives. She only sees that he works as an artist and romanticizes Russia's situation, flauting her school's--and the government's, at times--rules. She is constantly shown the reality of what most of the Russian citizens want from the Americans in their country, but she never questions Aloysha's motives in their relationship.
Not only is the relationship naive and formed on a romantic notion, but Aloysha's actions verge on stalking and obsession, and Laura also never picks up on it. I mean, her class goes to Moscow for a week and the boy follows them there, waiting outside of their hotel until he sees her. They can't be apart for a week? Really? Even as Laura's friend is explicitly telling her that he is likely trying to get her to marry him so he can get to the United States, she foolishly believes it's all love. Even if he does love her, you know there's that motivation too. It's obvious, but Laura refuses to face that and the fact that his actions might be out of the ordinary.
All of this could have been cleared up had we had some view into Aloysha's thoughts and feelings. But it's so hard to discern, given that the story is told in third-person past tense from Laura's point of view and Laura's inability to face reality and bring up the hard topics. Fans of closure will not like this ending. I often don't need much closure, but the ending infuriated me. There's absolutely no indication of what will happen in the future, nor is there ever indication of Aloysha's real motivations.
With the ending and my inability to accept the book's relationship, I can't really recommend the book. It's not that there's nothing redeeming, because I really enjoyed the setting and even the romance at first. I liked seeing Russia portrayed from Laura's point of view and especially liked watching her opinion of the country evolve as she learns more about it. I could see the lessons Laura learned while in Russia, but what was the point of her relationship with Aloysha, in the end? Without knowing even a little bit of how their story might continue, it's hard to know. I guess I can just say I was met with disappointment with The Boy on the Bridge. It's not the worst book I've ever read, by far, but it's also not going to be a favorite by far.
About the author:
Natalie Standiford, author of "How to Say Goodbye in Robot," "Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters," and the popular "Space Dog" and "Dating Game" series, has written picture books, nonfiction, chapter books, teen novels, and even horror novels for young adults. Standiford also plays bass in the rock band Tiger Beat, with fellow YA authors Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, and Barnabas Miller. Find out more at her web site, www.nataliestandiford.com.