Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: So Far Away

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents' ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. She discovers a dusty old diary in her family's basement and is inspired to unlock its secrets.

Kathleen Lynch, an archivist at the Massachusetts State Archives, has her own painful secrets: she's a widow estranged from her only daughter. Natalie's research brings her to Kathleen, who in Natalie sees traces of the daughter she has lost.

What could the life of an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? In the pages of the diary, they will learn that their fears and frustrations are timeless.
So Far Away is an affecting story of mothers and daughters and how solace can be found in the most unlikely places. -- Reagan Arthur

Last year around this time, I reviewed THE ARRIVALS by Meg Mitchell Moore. I loved this book and especially Ms. Moore's writing style; and I thought she did a wonderful job of creating authentic characters and capturing the essence of family dynamics. So it should come as no surprise that I've been anxiously awaiting her new novel SO FAR AWAY. I definitely enjoyed this novel too, and it reminded me why I think Ms. Moore is such a terrific writer.

SO FAR AWAY tells the stories of Natalie, a teen who is trying to handle her parents' divorce, her mom's depression and some major cyber-bullying from some girls at school; and Kathleen, an archivist who is also trying to escape from a painful past -- one where her teenage daughter just up and left with no word. Natalie and Kathleen's lives collide when Natalie enters the Massachusetts State Archives one day to conduct research on her ancestors for a school project. Both Natalie and Kathleen fill a much-needed void in each other's lives, and they soon become close. When Natalie discovers a diary from an Irish servant girl in the 1920s, Kathleen and she both realize that the aren't alone with their feelings and insecurities; and not only do they take comfort in this girl's words, but they also find strength in each other.

I really, really enjoyed SO FAR AWAY, and it is one of those books that managed to touch my heart and make me think. I will admit that I thought the book got off to a slow start, but that might have been the mood I was in when I first picked up the book because shortly thereafter, I was hooked and desperate to discover more about Kathleen and Natalie's lives.

As was the case when I read THE ARRIVALS, there were quite a few positive things that stood out to me in SO FAR AWAY. First and foremost were the characters of Natalie and Kathleen. I adored both of them and thought they were so real and honest. Once again, that's a testament to how well Ms. Moore can create characters that resonate with readers. Maybe it's because I'm a mother to a girl who is close in age to Natalie, but my heart really went out to her. She was in so much pain because of her parents, the loss of her best friend, and the bullying; and it just made me sick to see how unfair her life was. On the other hand, my heart broke for Kathleen too. As a mom, I can't imagine losing my daughter the way she did, and to never know what happened to her is just gut-wrenching. It was because of this pain that these characters were able to connect -- they each "saved" the other, but it was also because this pain that I became so interested in their stories.

While Natalie and Kathleen really did make this book special, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another secondary character that I liked. Kathleen's co-worker Neil was terrific, and he actually added a lot to this story. He did provide some lighter scenes in the book, but I think it was his interactions with Kathleen that made her a more authentic character to me. Their relationship demonstrated the importance of friendships in our lives, and the way they unconditional loved and supported each other was so heart-war,ming.

Another wonderful thing about SO FAR AWAY was how Ms. Moore presented these stories. For the most part, the book was written in third person alternating between Natalie and Kathleen's lives. However, I also really liked the diary entries of the 1920s Irish servant girl. I am the first to admit that I don't always like when journal entries are inserted in a story like this, but I think it was particularly effective in SO FAR AWAY. Not only did I find her story to be interesting, but I loved how the other characters were able to learn from it and gain strength from her actions.

Naturally, SO FAR AWAY lends itself to book club discussions. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link to discussion questions, but I am sure they will be available in the near future. All of the characters and their actions are very interesting, but there are also some recurring themes that are worthy of some discussion. Some of the topics you might want to talk about include mother/daughter relationships, loss, depressions, grief, bullying, friendships, love, hope, and strength.

I so enjoyed SO FAR AWAY and I highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction. It is a beautiful story about love and friendship, and it's guaranteed to touch your heart.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Natalie and Kathleen sound like fantastic characters and the link to the Irish servant girl sounds fascinating!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I also am intrigued by the link to the Irish servant girl!

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I am always drawn to stories that include diaries from the past. I find it adds a fascinating twist to a story. I am glad to see you enjoyed this since I have it on my wish list!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I find that I am always drawn in when there is a diary with juicy stuff in it, especially when the diary is old. Secrets! I've heard a lot about this author. I need to make her a project.

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

I recently read another review of this book and have to say I am dying to read it! I love truly fleshed out characters and the idea of a book that deals so sensitively with cyber-bullying and the struggles children go through when parents are wrapped up in their own problems appeals to me. Thank you for the recommendation and this is one book that is going to the top of my list!

Gayle Weiswasser said...

Just started this one tonight! Thanks for the great review. And have fun at BEA!