CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 23. . . .February 16, 2018
Here So Far Away.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, March, 2018.
358 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Wendy Phillips.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
He wasn’t nearly as tall as Joshua or as stocky as Bill, but he was more present than any boy I knew, more substantial somehow, and as I watched his shirt pull about the roundness of his shoulders as he leaned against the window frame, I thought—
You are the one.
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
“Are you worried about something?” he said.
“Poetry. I read some great stuff in your high school diary.”
He grinned. “Are you a poet?”
“God, no. Do I look like a poet?”
He studied me. “As a matter of fact, you do.”
I kissed him. Stepped through the beam of sunlight that had turned the lantern lens into a giant gold jewel and kissed him. Even as I felt his whiskers against my skin, his lips on mine, his tongue, blessedly, nowhere, it seemed impossible that I was doing what I was doing, but from his startled look when we pulled away, I knew that I had.
When George Warren (given name Frances) meets an older man who sets her heart racing the way no high school boy can, she falls hard for the first time. Tough girl George is known for her “catch and release” romances as well as her smart comebacks and thick skin. Francis shares not only her name but also her appreciation for witty conversation and language. He’s well travelled, experienced and gorgeous, and when she lets herself go, she finds herself recklessly, hopelessly in love.
But the difference in their ages means they must keep their relationship secret, and George’s rosy plans for senior year – partying with her close-knit group of friends, acing her classes to get accepted at a distant college far from her boring small town—begin to unravel. A huge fight with her best friend creates an unbridgeable chasm; her father’s injury means he may not return to work, and the strain within her family begins to fragment their once-close relationship. Overwhelmed by her secret feelings, George withdraws from both friends and family. As her isolation intensifies, her secret joy becomes a torment, driving her to the brink of losing everything, including herself.
In Here So Far Away, Hadley Dyer creates an unflinching portrait of uncomfortable realities of adolescence. Unlike some YA protagonists, George does not resolve problems by simply learning her lesson and returning to her old life a little wiser. The turning point is unpredictable, even shocking, and George’s subsequent descent into depression is painful, claustrophobic and utterly believable.
Dyer writes with refreshing honesty and a convincing voice. George drinks and dabbles in drugs, as do many high school kids, but this is shown as normal adolescent behaviour, and it doesn’t destroy her. Instead, her own powerful emotions lead her to the edge. The relationship between a 17-year-old high school student and a man 12 years her senior might be seen by adults as disturbing, one-sided and exploitative, but through George’s ironic and passionate eyes, it is tender and fulfilling, driven as much by George as by Francis. His inappropriate advances feel romantic rather than harassing, and the emotional connection between them seems real. As the romantic and personal tensions build, readers are drawn irresistibly into George’s emotional ride.
Dyer’s prose captures the adolescent tone effortlessly, and the dialogue is sharp and amusing without descending into artificiality. Minor characters, such as George’s friends Bill, Nat and Lisa, as well as her brother, Matt, are individually drawn and complex. The setting is richly flavoured with Nova Scotia detail, but the friendships, high school drama and senior year experiences are familiar to students across the continent. My West-Coast students will find many echoes of their own lives and voices here.
George’s experiences leave deep scars, helping her to understand the truth of her father’s frequent phrase, “Life’s a bad writer.” Life isn’t fair, and problems don’t always resolve neatly. Here So Far Away touches a dark place not often plumbed in YA literature, and we see the painful process of maturity for the difficult journey it can be.
Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, BC, and the author of the Governor General's Literary Award-winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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