One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (2014)

After finishing seven gruesome murder mysteries in ten days, I needed an antidote to so much dark material, I needed to read something that was kind, light-hearted, and had a definitively happy ending. I turned to one of my favorite authors, Jojo Moyes, who never fails to deliver a readable, well-written, intensely personal but ultimately lovely stories. (I have reviewed two other books by Moyes here and here

In One Plus One, we meet Jess Thomas a young mother of two children — a son Nicky who is the victim of horrific bullying, and a daughter who is a math-prodigy, Costanza — who is working feverishly to provide her children a good life. Jess works almost around the clock at three jobs to be able to keep the lights on and food on the table. Despite living in a rotten town in a government managed home, despite worrying constantly that her children will beat up at school or her house burglarized, despite round-the-clock worries about money and bills, we find Jess to be a kind and relentlessly optimistic woman. Jess is certain that doing the right thing and working hard will lead her family into a better life…eventually.

In real life, Jess sees everyday that no matter how hard she works to get ahead she always seems to fall further behind. When she takes a night job, she must constantly feel panicked that her children alone at home will be hurt. When her children need to get to the free medical center, it requires emptying her bank account to pay for the cross-town bus. When her daughter gets a scholarship to a private school, but Jess must find hundreds of dollars just to sign her up (not to mention the prohibitively expensive books and uniforms).

Jess does not want to perfect life, or even an easy life: she just wants a good, safe life, one where her children happy and her home safe. Jess is completely content to work very hard, and she is even willing to suffer the indignity of scrubbing toilets and serving booze to drunks, if it brings them all stability and peace of mind.

Throughout the story Jess is tested again and again with mishaps, emergencies, financial hardships, and embarrassments but she perseveres, knowing her kids will be better off for it. Along the way she finds a kind man who just might help ease the loneliness and stress of trying to forge a new life.



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