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Jill Santopolo captures hearts with ‘More Than Words’

| Friday, March 22, 2019

Ruby Le | The Observer

Jill Santopolo’s second novel, “More Than Words,” was released on Feb. 5. Readers of her debut novel, “The Light We Lost,” highly anticipated this return to the printing press and bookshelf. Santopolo’s newest book wows readers once more with captivating characters and well-placed plot twists, successfully drawing them into protagonist Nina Gregory’s world.

Nina is the daughter of Joseph Gregory, owner of the Gregory Hotels in New York City. Nina’s mother died when she was 13, and her father faces a relapse as he battles cancer. As the coming-of-age story unfolds, Nina discovers things about her parents that shake her to the core. Despite these unsettling discoveries, Nina finds stability in her best friend-turned-boyfriend Timothy Calder. Nina and Tim have been friends since Nina’s birth — their fathers were college roommates at Yale University. Having grown up alongside each other, the two get together as a couple just nine months before the start of the book. Although they’ve only been together a short time, it’s becoming pretty clear that Nina and Tim will get married. Or is it?

Before taking over the Gregory Hotels, Nina worked as a speech writer for Rafael O’Conner-Ruiz, an ex-immigration lawyer running for mayor of New York City. Nina and Rafael grow closer throughout the process of his campaign, and it’s only a matter of time before the two have to acknowledge the gravity between them — an unexpected chemistry that, along with two big bombshell secrets, shatters the last shreds of stability that Nina has in her current lifestyle.

Santopolo’s graceful writing style moves the story along at a smooth clip. She does a great job of letting readers into the heads of the characters, though sometimes it seems that she drags out worrisome scenarios and big decisions. She makes up for these slow sections with her elaborate descriptions of various characteristics, metaphors and memories from Nina’s childhood.

Poetry permeates the novel. “Jabberwocky,” a poem by Lewis Carroll, lies at the heart of the story, symbolizing the strong connection between Nina and her father. Nina and Rafael also discuss different types of poetry, ascribing various forms to the personalities of their friends and family. Since this is the type of intimacy that authenticates relationships, it is no surprise that Nina and Rafael feel drawn to each other.

Unfortunately, Nina’s life becomes more complicated when certain secrets are revealed, her ties to Tim and his family suddenly become tangled, her trust falters and she begins to question who she really is.

As these changes occur, a beautiful metamorphosis unfolds amidst Nina’s hardship. The transformation that readers witness rewards them, and the conclusion of Rafael’s mayoral campaign provides the perfect climax at the end of the book. Santopolo cleverly infuses a love story and a tale of family ties with a parable of political complexity, mirroring the many layers of New York City itself.

Santopolo impresses readers with her knowledgeable navigation of New York City. Santopolo’s narration of Nina’s whereabouts shows her familiarity with the city itself, and immerses readers even further into Nina Gregory’s world.

Nina’s relationships outside of her family and love interests are also well-developed, especially with Priscilla and her college roommate Leslie. The interactions between the women in this book were some of my favorite parts to read.

Ultimately, Santopolo’s sophomore work lives up to her debut through both its similarities and its differences. Her strong central female figures share various worries and waverings, while the men in their lives provide both problems and solutions. In both books, the main characters face challenges that shape who they are in the end.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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