Friday, April 10, 2009

Addition (book) by Toni Jordan

Once again, Unshelved prompts me to try something new. I decided to get this book through ILL after reading about it in one of Unshelved's Book Club strips.

Grace is intelligent, charming, and witty - she'd probably have guys beating down her door if it weren't for her little problem with counting. You see, Grace needs to order her life around numbers. A certain number of steps to the bathroom in the morning, a certain number of strokes when brushing her teeth, all the various numbers in everyday life that most people don't even notice. Grace's day is going well enough until she notices something horrible - somehow there are only nine bananas in her shopping cart. It's enough to make her world come to a stand-still - until she notices that the guy behind her has one banana. Grace stages a diversion, steals the banana, and all is well again. Except that the guy follows her, wanting to know why she took his banana.

Seamus, the banana guy, finds Grace attractive and has fun flirting with her - the feeling is mutual. However, Grace realizes how hard it is for someone like her to have a normal relationship with another human being. The closest thing she's had to male companionship in ages is her fantasies about Nikola Tesla, whose picture she keeps next to her bed.

Seamus is persistent, and the two begin their relationship. Eventually, Grace can no longer hide her counting problem from him - it's too difficult for her to make on-the-fly decisions, and then there's the fact that, despite being intelligent and charming, she doesn't have a job (she used to be an elementary school teacher). Rather than running from her after he finds out, Seamus decides to try to help her. With his encouragement, Grace begins therapy and takes the medication she is prescribed. Unfortunately, the medication is as bad for Grace, in its own way, as her counting problem was. Is it possible for Grace to both be herself and have a life?

Whichever library my copy of this book came from chose to slap a Romance sticker on the spine, which is fine - some of the most enjoyable parts of this book are when Grace and Seamus flirt with each other - but this book is really more about Grace than anything. The romance is just the icing on the cake, and I wouldn't by any means call this a traditional romance.

At the beginning of the book, Grace is at a point in her life where she rarely has any human contact - she goes to the grocery store, to a cafe, and to her home. That's pretty much it. She talks to family members on the phone, but I don't think she ever really goes to see them. Although Larry (Grace's niece, who is wonderful and much like Grace probably would've been had she not developed her counting problem) is one of Grace's most favorite people, Grace would have been incapable of going to Larry's recital had Seamus not been there. Seamus gives Grace numbers that provide her with the structure she needs to get herself ready and out the door.

Seamus is a great guy. Actually, other than the fact that he's working in a dead-end job, he's pretty close to perfect. He doesn't get Grace into therapy and on medication because he wants her to be normal - he does all those things because he wants her to be happy. I don't think Seamus does one non-perfect thing during this entire book. If the book had focused on him just a bit more than it did, there would've been more time for him to bore me to tears. However, as I've mentioned, Grace is the focus of the book. Seamus is fine as he is because Grace has enough flaws and insecurities for the both of them. (Still, it bugged me a little that Jordan took the time to give readers details about Seamus's family, and yet his family never makes an appearance. By comparison, Grace's family is practically everywhere.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The flirting bits were wonderful and clever, and I really liked Grace. One thing I didn't really enjoy, however, was the occasional feeling that Jordan was dragging some things out longer than necessary. This is a short book, but some of Grace's counting periods and her time on medication (the conversations involving Brain One, Brain Two, and others) have a tendency to make this book seem longer than it is. However, even though I occasionally felt some things went on too long, I was interested and fascinated. So many people see medication as an instant fix anymore, but Grace reminds readers that medications have side-effects - after seeing how intelligent and witty she can be, Grace as she is with side-effects is just depressing. Although I would argue that Grace is better able to function by the end of the book, she is by no means "fixed." She is able to function and move forward with the help of Seamus, her family, and the people she meets now that she manages to venture outside more often, whereas before she had only herself (the occasional phone call from family doesn't really count - I think the point here is human contact of the physical and emotional kind, not just the verbal and intellectual).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Amelie (live action movie) - Amelie is a shy, clever, and naive young woman in Paris with an interesting way of viewing the world and a strong sense of justice. One day, she makes it her mission to help those around her. Along the way, she meets new people and discovers love. Those who'd like something else with an interesting female main character might want to try this. Similar to Addition, there is romance, but Amelie and the things she learns and does are really more important that the romance.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (book) by Mark Haddon - This book is narrated by fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, who is mathematically gifted and autistic. One night, Christopher finds the dead body of Wellington, his neighbor's poodle. The dog's owner finds Christopher cradling the body and blames him for the death. Over the objections of his father and his other neighbors, Christopher decides to investigate Wellington's death. This book is a mystery in much the same way that Addition is a romance. Christopher, like Grace, is a fascinating main character who has trouble dealing with the world and the people in it.
  • The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - The MacGregor Grooms is actually composed of three short romantic stories (100-140 pages each). Each story is about a different man in one of the more recent MacGregor generations. Daniel MacGregor, the grandfather of these men and the patriarch of the MacGregor family, enjoys meddling in their lives (i.e. matchmaking), and by the end of each story one of the MacGregor men is happily matched up with someone who's just right for him. Those who liked Addition may enjoy the third story in the book, which focuses on Ian and Naomi. Like Grace, Naomi is a bit socially stunted - unlike Grace, Naomi's problems are the result of years of painful shyness. At the beginning of the story, Naomi's gotten herself to the point where she appears to be confident and smooth, but inside it all still feels like an act. Those who'd like a romance (in this case, a more traditional one) with a vulnerable female main character might want to try this. Similar to Addition, family members (from the MacGregor side, anyway) make lots of appearances.
  • As Good As It Gets (live action movie) - Melvin Udall is a generally unpleasant, obsessive-compulsive writer. After his gay neighbor, Simon, is brutally beaten, Melvin has to care for the man's dog. Making Melvin's life even more difficult is the discovery that Carol, the only waitress who will tolerate him, must leave work to care for her sick son - without Carol, it is impossible for Melvin to eat breakfast. The circumstances bring the three of them, Melvin, Carol, and Simon, together. Those who'd like something else with a main character whose obsessions have made living a "normal" life impossible might want to try this. Similar to Addition, there is some romance.
  • Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius (non-fiction book) by Marc Seifer - This is one of the books Jordan consulted while researching Nikola Tesla. Those who'd like to learn more about the man after reading Addition might want to try this.

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