BOOK REPORT for The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Cover Story: From Russia With Frostbite?
BFF Charm: Roger Murtaugh?
Swoonworthy Scale: 5?
Talky Talk: Let's Get Personal
Bonus Factors: Study Abroad, Leningrad
Relationship Status: Foreign Fling

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The Boy on the Bridge

Cover Story: From Russia With Frostbite

Because you know what really enhances the glorious architecture of Russia? PDA. Also, what in the hell are these people wearing? This book is set in the '80s, but I don't think those clothes would be fashionable in any decade. Also, it is SNOWING, and dude isn't even wearing socks. Unless someone can get these kids a pair of coats, I have a feeling this book will end with a tragic case of hypothermia.

The Deal:

It's 1982, and 19-year-old Laura has chosen to spend her semester abroad in Leningrad, since she loves winter and repression the soul and passion entangled in Russia's dark history. Amid the long food lines and bleak landscape, she finally discovers a spark of life when she meets Alyosha, a handsome painter who introduces her to a more colorful side of Leningrad. The two lose themselves in poetry, music and each other, but is their love real? Or is Alyosha just searching for an escape from the crushing Communist culture? As Laura struggles to find the truth, she receives an education that far exceeds the standard study-abroad curriculum.

BFF Charm: Roger Murtagh

Laura is wonderfully curious and almost painfully aware of life as it swirls around her. I loved her carpe diem attitude, but the lameass adult in me could not stop freaking out every time she missed curfew to hang out with Alyosha. She's warned about fraternizing with Russians, but she does it anyway. She's threatened with expulsion, but she continues to break the rules. That's badass. It's also incredibly stupid.

But she's 19 and she's in love. I get it, and I admire her reckless pursuit of happiness. But I'm way too old for that shizz. Every time her roommate, Karen, gave her a hard time for skipping class to be with Alyosha, I was like, "LISTEN TO KAREN." Then I wished that Karen and I could go out for vodka and Russian cookies and be squares together.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Throughout the book, Alyosha hovers on the edge of untrustworthy, and while it certainly dampened the swoon, I enjoyed those gray areas of his interactions with Laura. If their romance had been straightforward, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it at all, especially since the bohemian artist type isn't really my thing. The uncertainty that flickers between Alyosha and Laura was far more fascinating to me than their chemistry, and it was the search for a resolution rather than a happy ending that kept me invested in their relationship.

Talky Talk: Let's Get Personal

It's been a while since Natalie Standiford released a YA novel, and I savored the chance to once again bask in the glow of her pages. She writes in a wonderfully unique style that feels both weighty and light, gritty and ethereal. Each word seems painstakingly chosen to resonate at a subtle pitch that belies its emotional depth, and even ordinary moments taken on a magical sheen. There's a scene in the book when Laura quotes two lines from a poem, and I immediately wanted to borrow them to describe Standiford's writing: "...Everything is mother-of-pearl and jasper, But the light's source is a secret."

From the very first page, this novel felt much more intimate than Standiford's previous book, and that's largely due to the fact that this story is semi-autobiographical. From the tiniest flourish of details to the aching sense of familiarity, Standiford wraps you up in a cocoon of memories that you could easily mistake for your own.

Bonus Factor: Study Abroad

It's always refreshing to read a YA book set in college, and it's even more exciting when the heroine is studying abroad. Surrounded by a foreign culture, Laura is completely out of her comfort zone, which amplifies both the highs and lows of her journey.

Bonus Factor: Leningrad

I've never been that interested in traveling to Russia, but after reading this book, I'm seriously considering a trip to Leningrad. Then again, I kind of feel like I've already been there, thanks to Standiford's beautifully haunting portrayal. Like, try to read this and not feel compelled to book an airline ticket:

No, it wasn't spring that had transformed the city, but something elseher own eyes. Where once they'd seen decay, waste and grim gray skies, they now saw beauty, history, and a moody atmosphere, a sense of mystery. The palace walls of eggshell blue and butter yellow, the gleaming golden domes of old churches, the mesmerizing classical pattern on the gate of the Summer Garden, the statues of horses and men that seemed to come alive in the dusk, the fog drifting off a winding canal, a melancholy glance between two girls her age… To her this was no longer Leningrad. It was St. Petersburg.

Leningrad plays such a major role in the story that it quickly became my favorite character. From Women's Day (seriously, why don't we have that in America?) to Summer Garden, I relished every glimpse of the city, and I now I just want to dive headfirst into these photos that Standiford posted from her own days abroad.

Casting Call:

I wish college-aged Natalie could play herself, but since I don't own a time machine, I'll settle for:

Dakota Fanning as Laura

Anton Yelchin as Alyosha

Relationship Status: Foreign Fling

Against the captivating backdrop of Leningrad, this book wooed me with its compelling earnestness and enchanted me with its exotic customs. Even more, it challenged my expectations by showing me the truth in an array of perspectives without demanding that I agree with any of them. I definitely learned something from this book, and while I wouldn't offer to marry it and bring it back to America with me, I'm certainly glad that we met. 

The Boy on the Bridge is available now.

Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. The founder of Forever Young Adult, Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).