Jojo Moyes’s One Plus One is about Jess, a single mother who supports a bullied teenage step-son (Nicky) and a math genius daughter (Tanzie) in a crappy neighbourhood after her husband vanishes for two years. Ed is a geeky coder, wealthy from a successful start-up who is caught up in an insider trading scandal. They fall in love.
That is the premise of this book, but I did not love it because Jess and Ed fall in love. I loved this book because it resonated with the common life philosophy of an underdog – the philosophy that if you work hard, if you’re good to others, then good things will come to you.
We know that sometimes, this is not true.
I want to share a part of Nicky’s blog post that got to me:
“So this is the thing I don’t understand. I don’t understand how our family can basically do the right thing and yet always end up in the crap… Mostly, I don’t understand how the bullies and the thieves and the people who just destroy everything – the arseholes – get away with it. The boys who punch you in your kidneys for your dinner money, and the police who think it’s funny to treat you like you’re an idiot, and the kids who take the piss out of anyone who isn’t just like them. Or the dads who walk right out and just start afresh somewhere new that smells of Febreze with a woman who drives her own Toyota and owns a coach with no marks on it and laughs at all his stupid jokes like he’s God’s gift and not actually a slimeball who lied to all the people who loved him for two years. Two whole years…
Mum always told us that good things happen to good people. Guess what? She doesn’t say that anymore.” (p. 316 – 17)
Seeing someone break down is very sad. It is even more sad when the person is someone strong- someone you thought could fight through it all with a smile in the end. The despair, the giving up, the defeat of a positive and passionate person is heart-breaking.
The world is unfair. Many times, good people are not rewarded and “bad” people go unpunished. The most excruciating part is that we feel helpless. We let the unfairness settle in our hearts. We let the harshness of society whip us back into our spots. And yet we still take out the broken bits of our goodness, our sweat, our hopes, and invest them into better days.
Your People, Your Tribe
You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office or some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.
Growing up as one of the only Asian kids on my street, I definitely had times when I felt like I didn’t fit in. I got along with others fine, but for many years it didn’t feel like I had a true place to belong other than in my own family. This quote accurately describes what happens to (I believe) many people. You strike a conversation with a person, and automatically you click. You are introduced into a new group, and instantly, you feel connected. It really happens.
You wander down a lonely road, thinking you’ll never find people who will understand you, who will like the same things you do, and then all of a sudden, you find them. You find your people, or “your tribe” as Ed puts it. You feel a real sense of belonging, a newfound pride of your identity, and then you wonder why you ever thought you were the only one.
Everything about Jess’s family implies disaster. A single mom? A dad who is never around? Step-son who needs drugs to “sleep”? Prodigy child prone to bullying? Financial struggles? Social workers, gather!
Despite all this, Jess is a good mother. She is (generally) a good role model, showing forgiveness, compassion, and determination even when others treat her like dirt. Nicky is (generally) a good older brother, protecting Tanzie and helping Jess when she breaks down. Nicky and his family are mismatched pieces of a puzzle who don’t seem to fit in anywhere, but seem to fit fine together. There is something very beautiful about that.
Because she knew that something happened to you when your mother didn’t hold you close, or tell you all the time that you were the best thing ever, or even notice when you were home: a little part of you sealed over. You didn’t need her. You didn’t need anyone. And without even knowing you were doing it, you waited. You waited for anyone who got close to you to see something they didn’t like in you, something they hadn’t initially seen, and to grow cold and disappear, too, like so much sea mist. Because there had to be something wrong, didn’t there, if even your own mother didn’t really love you?