The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
Published: 30 July 2013 by Scholastic
Pages: 256 (hardcover)
Genre/s: Young Adult, Romance
Source: Own library
Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia--a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she's been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?
As June approaches--when Laura must return to the United States--Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She's only nineteen and doesn't think she's ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn't she take it?
The Boy on the Bridge is listed as Historical Fiction on some websites, which kind of made me laugh in an I'm-so-not-offended way because I was born in 1982. Although I don't particularly agree that is IS historical fiction, it does focus on an interesting time and place in history - Russia during the cold war.
Beginning with Laura meeting a local boy, Alexei, after he rescues her from some intense beggars on the bridge near her foreign-student accommodation. Laura herself isn't really a character I connected with - her naivety and blindness to some pretty obvious issues grated on me a little bit, and there's not a lot of delving into her personality, likes and dislikes, interests etc.
Going back to her naivety, there are a lot of situations that she finds herself in with Alexei that should at least have her questioining his motives but she blindly accepts them which didn't sit very well with me.
There is a whole bunch of secondary characters - Laura's friends and roomates, Alexei's friends and although Standiford attempts to make them interesting and a key part of the storyline, it all fell a little flat for me - the best friend doesn't really seem to question the relationship and the actual safety of Laura considering they are living in a secured compound and are being monitored quite closely by the staff.
I also didn't feel the connection between them as a couple - there is very little that they have in common and it felt like Laura was just looking for a boyfriend and Alexei was looking for a nice American girlfriend. Maybe that's the point of the story, but it really started to irritate me because I didn't understand why Laura was doing the things she was.
On a positive note, there is an underlying feeling of paranoia and suspicion as certain events unfold and if Laura hadn't been so blinded by her feelings for Alexei, it would have been interesting to see how she reacted. There's also several scenes that go into detail about how both foreigners and locals are treated very differently and their reactions to that treatment which were interesting but unfortunately a little to few and far betweeen.
The Boy on the Bridge is an interesting story from a historical (ahem) perspective and not something that is often written about in Young Adult literature, so there's bonus points for that, but the characters and their motiviations were just too glossed-over for me to really enjoy it.