Genre: Young/New Adult, Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Not bad
The Boy on the Bridge follows a college girl named Laura, who is visiting Communist Russia as part of a study abroad program. Laura was fascinated by Russian history when she was young, but once she’s studying there, she’s disenchanted by all the government restrictions and how little the dramatic history of the country came through.
Until she meets Alyosha (aka the boy on the bridge). When Alyosha saves her from a gypsy attack, Laura gradually grows closer to him. At first they just meet up for coffee so Alyosha can show Laura around Leningrad, the city she’s staying in, and so she can practice her Russian, but as the story progresses, their love story unravels.
I received an uncorrected proof of The Boy on the Bridge at Book Expo America this past June, and I didn’t really know what to expect from it. I thought the cover was pretty (Russia, cool!) and the blurb seemed sort of interesting, although quite clichéd. When I started reading this book, I wasn’t especially pulled into the story. Sure, it wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t eager to read it either. Through most of the book I was in this state of apathy. Only at the end did I get really into it and eager to see the fate of the characters.
Laura, for one, was very bland. She was this American girl here to study Russian and ended up dating some handsome Russian stranger, which was predictable at best. Of course, this was in the premise of the story, so it’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with that. It was just the way that she immediately saw him as this savior who embodied the spirit of Russia. It was so… ugh. She didn’t even think it was strange that a perfect stranger came up to her, saved her, and gave her his number. It was baffling, especially given that, as Laura herself acknowledges throughout the story, the KGB often arrested citizens for fraternizing with foreigners. Then Laura starts skipping classes and breaking rules to see Alyosha more, jeopardizing her studies. That, I just couldn’t stand. Maybe it’s just me, but I would never give up on my education or risk expulsion just to see some random guy I won’t see when I go back home. It was just absurd.
Then there was Alyosha, who I didn’t particularly care for either. It was sweet how he spent all his time showing Laura around and teaching her about the culture, but he was too… nice. He was always like, “Yay, Laura! I’m so happy to see you!” and his life just revolved around her. It seemed so fake. Probably the biggest downfall of The Boy and the Bridge, for me, is that the romance could have been so much more. I like a romance that makes me feel like I’m in love along with the couple, but this one just didn’t do anything for me. The relationship was so abrupt – they never argued or had encounters that tested their relationship, they were just all lovey dovey for no apparent reason.
There were also parts throughout the story that just didn’t seem tied up in the end, which always bugs me. For non-spoilery example, we never find out what happened with Tanya or how Alyosha has an apartment all to himself. Then there are parts that just seem random. At one point, Laura and her classmates are at a bar and she randomly asks them if they think the soldiers have inner lives and they talk about souls. It was just a weird conversation to have.
On the other hand, Natalie Standiford does a great job immersing the reader into Communist Russia. In all my past history classes, the only touches on communism were to talk about were wars related to communism and attempts to end communism. Getting to see into the everyday life of communism was really interesting. The way Standiford had the characters explain the general dissatisfaction with the state of society and how the government could do whatever it wanted was so shocking. I loved how authentic it all felt – the character’s reactions, the living arrangements, the food, everything.
Overall, I didn’t quite find The Boy on the Bridge spectacular, but it was far from bad. The historical aspect definitely stood out to me as positive, and I feel that I’ve learned a lot about the time period by reading this book. Unfortunately, the plot kind of just fell through for me. I wasn’t gripped by the story or the characters, so it didn’t really leave a huge impression on me – I didn't even care what happened to them until the very end. However, if you’re interested in how life was in Communist Russia, I definitely recommend it. Although the romance is rather, for lack of a better word, lame, the world is so interesting that it’s worth the read.
Have you ever studied abroad or plan to?
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