When Stanley Owens and Vera Baxter first meet, they’re rivals on the stage of the 1960 National Spelling Bee. Vera thinks Stanley is smug and privileged — he lives in the fancy hotel where the spelling bee is being held — while Stanley thinks Vera is pale and strange. Regardless, both are brilliant teens who find themselves the last ones standing on that stage. It’s a life-changing day for both of them, and initial impressions aside, they form a friendship that will last for many years to come.
Both teens are pushed hard to succeed by their mothers: Mrs. Owens has grown steadily more anthropophobic since her husband died in battle in Normandy; she never leaves their hotel room and is terrified of the world at large. She pushes Stanley to excel and has his whole life mapped out for him: he’ll attend Harvard and become a senator. Period. Meanwhile, Vera and her mother live out of hotels as well; Vera’s mother logs a lot of hours traveling as a salesman’s assistant and has goals of breaking the glass ceiling and having her own IBM sales career. She also expects Vera to go to an Ivy league school, but unlike Stanley — who is resentful that he has no say in his life and instead wants a career creating crossword puzzles for national newspapers — Vera wants to go to school and become a brilliant mathematician.
Years later, at eighteen, Stanley and Vera are set to go off to college. Stanley, still dreaming of living on his own terms and making crossword puzzles, comes up with a scheme for he and Vera to get married at the hotel (frequented by wealthy, high-powered people that Stanley is on good terms with), then sell the gifts and split the money in order to fund their independence. Vera is secretly in love with him and agrees, but neither of them have any idea how their scheme will affect their lives or their emotions. It all falls disastrously apart when their lies catch up to them.
For two people who are so smart, Stanley and Vera continue to make very foolish mistakes, and the book checks in on them at different stages in their lives all the way through adulthood. I hesitate to compare it to David Nicholls’s One Day because I didn’t like that book, but there are similarities in the way the plot is presented. This book, however, is a lot more fun; the nerdiness and wordplay feel seamlessly woven into the story. It’s a book that’ll leave you smiling.
Two Across was published on August 4, 2015 by Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette Book Group.