The Girl You Left BehindI’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a book snob. Probably quite not as snobbish as some of my English major compatriots—I haven’t read and will likely never read Infinite Jest, not even for the street cred—but I do have a great disdain for:

  • Anything about vampires written in the past 10 years
  • Anything by Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, or James Patterson (he doesn’t even write his own books!)
  • Anything with “-oholic” in the title (I’m referring only to terms such as “chocoholic” and “shopoholic”—I’d very much be interested in a book with a title such as, say, Confessions of Jazz Age Alcoholic in Denial: A Boozy Portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald)
  • Anything with a pink or overly girlish cover (I’ll grant an exception for Mindy Kaling’s irresistible Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, because she’s perfect and amazing and adorable)

Essentially, I tend to shy away from books that are outrageously popular (the books of which you can usually find pocket-sized versions at the airport), and, specifically, I steer clear of chick lit. But I recently chanced upon a British author who falls into the chick lit category (though just barely, I would argue) and with whom I am utterly in love. Her name? Jojo Moyes.

The fun thing about Jojo Moyes is that she’s been quite successful in the United Kingdom for some time but only gained traction in the U.S. after her book Me Before You was published a few years ago. I’ll confess that I read Me Before You because Amazon kept recommending it to me, and I was surprised that the website’s calculated guess turned out to be spot-on (seriously, those algorithms kind of freak me out). I loved the book, and as soon as I’d finished reading it, I wanted more Moyes. So I picked up The Last Letter from Your Lover and enjoyed it perhaps even more than Me Before You. I then moved on to The Girl You Left Behind and I adored it as much as I had her other books.

I’ve pardoned Moyes from my chick-lit boycott because, though her books are all but drenched in the soft pink haze of sentimentality, her plotlines are inventive and complex, and her vividly painted characters draw you into their worlds as if they were real. The prose itself is hardly the stuff of Nabokov, but . . . the lady knows how to write one hell of a story.

Jojo Moyes

Another reason I’m fond of Moyes’s books is that she has a knack for weaving her stories through multiple time periods and places. The Girl You Left Behind begins in France during WWI, where a woman who has been separated from her husband clings to a portrait he’d painted of her during happier times. We then flash forward to the present day, when a young widow who now, through a series of complicated and painful events, owns the painting must put up the fight of her life to maintain ownership of it. The book seamlessly jumps back and forth between the two time periods and leaves you wondering what happened to the girl in the painting, and what will happen to the girl who now owns it. The ending, which I’ll of course refrain from giving away, is thoroughly satisfying.

Is it Tolstoy? Absolutely not. But man cannot live on Tolstoy alone. I’m often snobbish in my book choices because I believe that reading challenging literature will challenge my mind—something for which I’m desperate now that I’m out of school (and given my admittedly abysmal taste in reality television).  But Jojo Moyes’s books, though light on philosophy and arcane jargon, are hardly bubblegum for the brain: If you’re looking for a page-turner that’s both fun and substantive, I highly recommend (to borrow an idiom from her motherland) giving her a go.