So Far Away: A Novel
By Meg Mitchell Moore
Mini-Summary: A lonely archivist, Kathleen Lynch, emotionally scarred by the loss of her own husband and daughter, befriends a teenage girl, Natalie Gallagher, who is struggling with the divorce of her parents and cyberbullying from girls at school. This unlikely pair comes together through mutual interest in a mysterious diary written in the 1920s by an Irish nanny, Bridget Callaghan, who has secret struggles of her own.
Some themes at play within the novel: Bullying, Divorce, Friendship, Death, Illness, Pregnancy, Loss, Family Struggles, Loneliness, Redemption
Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
I won this ARC in a First Reads giveaway by GoodReads, and I thought, having won it, that it wasn’t going to be… well… good. I never actively read anything that isn’t a classic, popular, or mainstream. I read books that are pretty much guaranteed to be at least well-written. So, I thought I was going to have to fake some nice things to say about this one, and that it would be a total disappointment because I acquired it so freely and easily. Despite all of my doubts, I am happy to say that this novel is actually pretty good, even if it isn’t entirely for me.
The real potency of this novel comes from the Natalie Gallagher storyline. Moore very aptly captures the plight of the teenage girl. Natalie struggles with the suddenness of her parents’ divorce and all of the change it brings into her life. Her disappointment in her father’s new romance and mother’s crippling depression is palpable. She is surly and impatient with them. Natalie looks to her parents as sources of strength, and she is deeply angry at them for being fallible and coming up short in their responsibilities to her. Natalie desires someone solid and aware in her life, and she learns the hard lesson that all children must eventually face: parents are humans too, and the childhood memories we have of them being superhereos are figments of our imagination.
The cyberbullying thread of the story is incredibly true to life. Natalie gets bullied by her ex-best friend and another girl, jealous of the attention Natalie receives from one of the boys in their grade. Moore expertly depicts the cruelty and calculating nature of insecure teenage girls through the constant bombardment of texts, voicemails, pictures, and website posts that Natalie suffers through. Natalie feels betrayed, helpless, and lost. She loses all self-confidence and becomes very angry at the world. This book practically screams at the reader, sending a strong message about the harsh realities of cyberbullying.
There are some flaws within this book, however. For one thing, Moore does a poor job with Bridget’s voice. I just could not hear the Irish immigrant nanny. I could not hear the Roaring Twenties. Sure, the characters had bobbed hair and Bridget called the lady of the house “ma’am” every now and then, but that’s where any believability stops. I think maybe if Bridget didn’t use speech patterns that are so obviously present day, or if she had an Irish lilt to her voice, I might have been able to buy her character. I commend Moore for trying, and it’s an interesting concept to tie the characters together through these dated diary entries, but Moore should stick to what she is good at, and it isn’t historical fiction.
The character of Kathleen Lynch is another really off-putting component of this book for me. I simply could not stand her. She is a sniveling, pathetic wimp of a character. The constant repetition within her inner monologue of “Girls in trouble. Girls needing help. Trouble everywhere! We need to help ALL TEh GIRLZ!” is so incredibly annoying. There were some points in time where I wanted to throw the book at the wall. Kathleen is so self-absorbed for most of the book that she couldn’t see that her dog is dying and that her friends needed her. Her fixation on her lost daughter, Susannah, drove me crazy. I do concede that that may have been the point; Kathleen was drowning in her own losses. However, I think I would have still been able to see Kathleen’s redemption in the end without all the psychotic echoing of “Girls in trouble!”and the endless pity-parties she quite literally threw for herself (so many pointless pages of her hanging out in her apartment alone, thinking of the lost Susannah, who cares?!).
But I digress. Overall, this book passed the time pleasantly. There are some issues that I couldn’t ignore while reading it, but it packs a strong punch about adolescent bullying. I suppose I could recommend this book to teen girls (though I’m not sure they will have the patience for the middle-aged bouts of regret and loneliness Kathleen goes through), but I think I would really recommend this book to mothers of teen daughters. It’s mostly a cautionary tale with a little bit of secret love affair and gratuitous gay best friend thrown into the mix.
“And it was that fast. Not quite overnight, but fast enough that Natalie felt dizzy from it all, unmoored, unanchored, the way she felt the first time she did a somersault underwater, when she didn’t know which way was up” (34).
“Natalie felt something dark and ugly gnawing a hole inside her. It was bullshit. All of it: bullshit. Her parents, both of them, Kathleen Lynch, who wasn’t even helping when she said she would. Hannah Morgan, who could do something about Taylor Grant and refused to. Mrs. Morgan, too blind to see what was going on […] All of them full of the same bullshit. Pretending to help, but doing nothing. Bullshit bullshit bullshit” (236).
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication: Paperback, ARC copy, Hachette Book Group First Edition, May 2012
Genre: Coming-Of-Age, Middle-Aged Lit