Snapshots from Different Angles

So Far Away, by Meg Mitchell Moore. Reagan Arthur, 336 pp. $25.99

Some authors write with a story in mind. Some with a character. Some with a location. Some, like Meg Mitchell Moore in her latest novel, writing with a topic in mind. They write to explore the different facets of this idea using plot lines and characters.

In some cases, an author that writes with a topic in mind has an agenda. He or she could write a research paper, but they choose instead to prove their point using story. I’m not a huge fan of these works, but So Far Away caught me off guard.

To be fair, it wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through the book that I realized she had an agenda at all. This is a book about bullying. The minute that light bulb lit up in my mind, everything started to come together.

Kathleen Lynch is a “woman of 57, a widow …” Her life is relatively ordinary–she lives within her means (she “… had no need for a one hundred and seventy dollar dress with ruffled tiers of diaphanous silk”), she works at the Archives in South Boston–with one exception. As a senior in high school, her daughter left. She ran away, taking with her “two pairs of jeans, a navy sweatshirt that said GAP across it in white letters …” She does not take her toothbrush, and she does not leave a note.

Her daughter’s leaving carries with her throughout the rest of her life, even though she has gone to therapy and seemingly moved on. She refuses to talk about it. Instead, she pours her nurturing instincts into her border collie, Lucy, the love of her life.

One afternoon, a lost-looking girl walks into the Archives. She has “long orangey-red hair, and skin that was nearly transparent … even with the jacket on Kathleen could see that she was very, very thin. Legs like toothpicks, a chest that was nearly concave, collarbones poking out from the skin.”

Natalie Gallagher is 13 years old. She loves school, specifically Ms. Ramirez’s English class, though she has an entire list of other things that make her sick. She walks into the Archives to find her past, for an open-ended paper she has to complete for English class. In addition, Natalie receives a number of anonymous text messages, calling her a loser and pointing out every negative secret about her life.

The texter is Taylor Grant, who hates Natalie for no apparent reason. Natalie’s former best friend, Hannah Morgan, has joined forces with Taylor. Together they weedle into every safe corner Natalie has within herself, and they emotionally beat her into the ground.

So Far Away is Moore’s second book, after The Arrivals. The plot is at times formulaic, but the characters come off the page. This, I believe, is due to Moore’s language and voice:

Natalie supposed this was all due to global warming, which her science teacher, Mr. Guzman, a tally twiggy man with wool sweaters worn thin at the elbows, talked about at length any chance he got. And while she felt bad about global warming, and while she tried to take Mother Earth’s needs into account most of the time, she couldn’t help but revel–a little–in the mercy of the season, and in the fact that her teeth, when she wakened in her tiny slanted room, did not immediately begin to chatter.

What I appreciate, though, about So Far Away is that it’s not a typical “bullying” book. Yes, Natalie is being bullied. That is clear from the start. But there’s more to the story. Natalie’s self-esteem isn’t crushed by Taylor and Hannah alone: her mother has completely checked out of life, her father has moved on with his and left her in the dust. She has no one around her that she can trust: no one to help her build self-confidence. It’s not any one area of life that diminishes her.

Joining Kathleen and Natalie is a notebook, found in a decaying box in the back of Natalie’s basement. A woman named Bridget O’Connell, who neither had a connection to, tells her story in scrawling, ancient handwriting. Natalie brings the notebook in to find out how Bridget’s book found its way into her basement, and what it can offer to her search for who she is and where she came from.

But what she and Kathleen find goes far beyond the book, and far beyond the secrets that each hold so tight.

So Far Away is available in hardcover.

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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