Rachael Allen’s A TAXONOMY OF LOVE puts a new twist on a classic concept.
A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen is, at its core, a love story that has been told time and time again. The story follows the lives of two young adults as they grow up and their relationship inevitably shifts as they change. At various points in the book, Hope and Spencer can be qualified as best friends, to strangers. And yet Allen allows her story to deviate from the typical, adding complications and nuances to what she could have easily made into an easy relationship. This allows a classic concept to feel new and revitalized, while still feeling classic.
The first thing that differentiates this story from the typical tale is the characters. The story is mainly told from the point of view of Spencer, while the reader is given insight into Hope through conversations with her sister. Spencer, the male protagonist, is a young man with tourettes. That in itself is unique — tourettes isn’t something often explored in literature. Spencer begins the story alone, seeing his life through taxonomies. Starting as a science project, the flow charts become how Spencer understands the world. From the moment Spencer sees Hope, she becomes an idealized figure. He is fixated before he even knows her. When Spencer actually meets Hope, he becomes quickly infatuated. Here is a girl who makes the bullies that terrorize him cower, who thrillingly lives next door to him, and who, most importantly, doesn’t make fun of his tourettes.
Having Spencer be the readers access into the world is a smart move, because he is someone the audience can relate to. His tourettes is portrayed beautifully and never played as a cheap ploy. The portrayal of syndrome is honest and realistic, allowing the reader to understand a disorder that they otherwise might not have much exposure to. Spencer’s struggle and isolation and strength is resounding, something everyone can relate to, even if they don’t have tourettes.
Further than that, it was a good move to have Spencer being the main protagonist because, despite his fascination with her, Hope is, in my opinion, problematic. The decisions that she continued to make became grating, and while she was a good and interesting character in general, it became difficult to sympathize. That being said, despite Spencer being the main protagonist, Hope’s journey is thorough and nuanced, full of ups and downs and obstacles, allowing the reader to become just as invested in her.
The secondary characters of the book are real and authentic. No two kids would be completely wrapped up in each other, especially for such a long timespan, and Allen understands that. Both Spencer and Hope have a variety of different people that they interact with and have relationships with, none of whom felt superfluous.
Much like reality, the book is messy. And I say that in the best way. There is an honesty to the journey that is refreshing, and the fact that it spans 6 years of the protagonists’ lives means that it should be messy, because nothing in life is neat and tidy. The reader goes through a lot with this story, seeing as where it has joy and levity, it also has heartbreak and tragedy. With a compelling narrative, an unpredictable plot, and one out of two protagonists being likable, I would absolutely recommend this book to a friend.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.