check and mate?

Annika Rose has trouble in social situations. She gets confused easily and has trouble reading other peoples’ facial expressions. But she loves chess. And her time spent playing chess at The University of Illinois Chess Club kept her from leaving school and moving back home with her parents.

It was at Chess Club that she met Jonathan Hoffman. Jonathan is drawn to Annika. Not only is she beautiful, but she is honest and cares deeply for animals. She doesn’t play games (other than chess), and she doesn’t let herself get diverted from her goals. But she does have feelings. And she does fall in love with Jonathan.

Back when they were in school together, in 1991, they thought they’d be together forever. They made plans. And then life got in the way. And when Annika got completely overwhelmed by that, she burned their relationship to the ground.

Now it’s ten years later, and they bump into each other in a grocery store in Chicago. Annika works at the library, like she always wanted to, and volunteers with animals and children. Jonathan has transferred to the Chicago office of the financial services company where he works and is recently divorced. They both can’t help but wonder if they can try again, or if too much time, too much life, has passed.

The Girl He Used To Know is a beautiful love story told in alternating chapters, the past, the present, Annika, Jonathan. The story tumbles out a piece at a time, an enchanting game of chess between reader and author Tracey Garvis Graves. The sweetness of their time together is mixed with the harshness of other relationships, of reality, of the unrelenting truth.

I do not often reach for love stories, but I could not get enough of The Girl He Used To Know. It was bewitching with its beautiful language, engaging with the intensity of the relationship, and lovely in its honest depiction of falling in love as someone—or with someone—on the autistic spectrum. It’s a truly beautiful journey, and I hated for it to come to an end.

Galleys for The Girl He Used To Know were provided by St. Martin’s Press, with many thanks.