One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

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Bestselling British author Jojo Moyes (Me Before You, The Girl You Left Behind) has a knack for creating the perfect easy-reading blend of suspense, quirky humor and unexpected romance. In her latest novel, she manages to capture her readers’ interest with a cast of incompatible misfits who are thrown together on a road trip from the southern coast of England to Scotland.

Jess Thomas is a young divorced mother who’s doing her best to raise Tanzie, her ten-year-old math prodigy daughter, and Nicky, her Goth teenage stepson. Her ex-husband, Marty, deserted the family to move back in with his mother. He left Jess little more than a rusting Rolls Royce in the garage, an unfortunate reminder of a failed venture into the limousine business. Between cleaning houses in a nearby resort community and working the evening shift at the local pub, she’s just managing to get by.

Jess and her housecleaning partner, Nathalie, rarely see the people who own the posh vacation homes they clean, but suddenly Jess seems to keep crossing paths with a somewhat geeky client named Ed Nicholls. A wealthy software entrepreneur, Ed is hiding out in his vacation house while the government investigates him for insider trading. He knows he’s guilty; he gave a clingy new girlfriend some tips about his company’s stock in the hope that she would leave town. Now his ill-advised plan could cost him his job and land him in jail. Ed is a lifetime workaholic suddenly separated from his work, dealing with emotions that ping pong between boredom, frustration and a feeling of loss.

Life for Jess takes an unexpected swerve when Tanzie’s math skills win her a partial scholarship to attend the prestigious St. Ann’s School. Jess sees it as her daughter’s ticket out of the tough neighborhood they call home, but she knows there’s no way she can come up with her portion of school fees as well as money for Tanzie’s uniforms and books. When Nicky is so badly beaten up by neighborhood bullies that he ends up in the hospital, even Jess’s usually unflagging optimism begins to fade. The only family member she doesn’t worry about is Norman, their gigantic rescue dog who doesn’t do much of anything except sleep, drool and pass gas.

Of course, Jess and Ed instantly dislike each other. She interprets his preoccupation with his problems as rudeness and reacts in kind. He can’t figure out why this scrappy but attractive young woman seems so mad at him. Then comes an opportunity that could change all of their lives. Jess hears about a Math Olympiad in Scotland with a first place cash prize of £5,000. Winning the Olympiad would help Tanzie pay her own way at St. Ann’s and the trip to Scotland seems like a great way to get Nicky away from his tormenters for a few days. She loads the kids and Norman into the Rolls and hits the road. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get too far before being pulled over for a missing headlight and out-of-date car registration.

Ed becomes an unexpected knight in shining armor when he drives by in his new Audi and offers Jess and her family a ride. He tells Jess he has business in the north and impulsively offers to drive them all the way to Scotland, regretting his offer almost immediately. The last thing Jess wants is to be indebted to Ed, but she doesn’t want to let Tanzie down so she reluctantly agrees. What follows is the British version of a road trip from hell, with a stinky dog, a carsick child, bad meals and plenty of tension between the two adults. Moyes switches the perspective between her four characters on a chapter-by-chapter basis, so we get to view the events from different angles. We’re along for the ride as Jess and Ed take the journey from adversaries to friends—but will they become more than friends?

One Plus One is more than a romance story. It’s a story about enormous life changes that can grow from unexpected acts of kindness and about the power of family, any type of family, to fight back against the world’s brutality and injustice. It’s also a celebration of the power of optimism in the face of disappointment and defeat.

This book was a bit tough to get into in the beginning. Moyes crams lots of backstory into the first few chapters, but I became eager to keep reading once the road trip got underway. When the trip ends there are a few more obstacles and surprises, and by then I found myself caring for the characters and hoping they would all get their happy ending. In that regard, One Plus One does not disappoint, though Jess and Ed may end up with what they need instead of what they want.