Friday, May 18, 2012

So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore — 336 pgs

Natalie Gallagher is only thirteen and dealing with an emotional load that no one should ever have to carry. After her parents’ bitter divorce, Natalie is basically left to fend for herself as she lives with her severely depressed mother. Natalie’s mother has checked out and is rarely ever outside her bedroom, spending all her time sleeping instead of caring for her daughter. When Natalie begins to receive threatening text messages from two girls at school, one of them her former best friend, she becomes increasingly anguished. Soon the venomous texts are coming fast and furious. When she decides to tackle an independent school project in the Massachusetts archives to distract herself, she’s quickly befriended by the senior archivist, Kathleen Lynch. Though Kathleen doesn’t know about the secrets that Natalie has been hiding, she immediately senses that something is wrong with the young girl she’s working with. Kathleen has her own secrets: many years ago, her daughter became a heroin addict and left home after a terrible confrontation, and Kathleen has been searching for her ever since. As the cyberbullying becomes more and more vicious, Kathleen realizes that this young girl is in danger, and that only she can do something to stop it. In the process of helping Natalie, the two stumble across an old diary that may hold clues to the lonely Natalie’s heritage, and Kathleen and her co-worker Neil are just the two to ferret them out. But Natalie is slipping away from Kathleen just as her daughter did so many years before. Can Kathleen rescue this tormented girl, not only from her enemies but from herself, before it’s too late? In this breathtaking novel, Meg Mitchell Moore searingly explores the issue of cyberbullying and ingeniously interweaves the diary of an young Irish immigrant, a young girl who also found herself in difficult conundrum many decades before.

This book was hard to tear myself away from. Its sincere tone and frightening story struck me so deeply that I had to put it down midway and go speak to my daughter about cyberbullying. Natalie’s plight was hair-raising, and the fact that no one took her seriously until it was too late disturbed me greatly. There’s something heartrending about reading a book in which the main character is being bullied unceasingly with nowhere to turn. I was so angry at Natalie’s parents for forcing her to fend for herself at such a tender age. This left Natalie in the wind, fighting for her pride and reputation, alone.

When Natalie unearths a strange diary in the basement of her home, she decides that she’ll uncover its secrets as her independent project for English class. But before she even opens the diary, she meets the lonely and very perceptive Kathleen Lynch. In revealing even the smallest part of her soul to Kathleen, Natalie and her diary become a subject of intense interest to the archivist. Kathleen is longing for the daughter that left her many years ago, and when she discovers the truth behind Natalie’s reticence and fear, she resolves to save the child at all costs. There’s an instant bond between the two, but Natalie is skittish and won’t reveal everything to the woman who longs to be the hero to one lost girl.

Though Natalie is initially confused by the bullying, things get way out of hand in a very short time. There’s nowhere to hide, and Natalie is powerless against the two girls who have targeted her. Again and again she tells her story, but the people who should save the day are hearing but not listening. This was maddening to me. The suffering of a young girl with nowhere to turn immediately made me think of all the children out there being bullied, secretly carrying this great weight of shame and abuse. The major crux of this story lies in the themes of trust. It’s because Natalie can’t fully trust Kathleen that things go horribly wrong for her. There is a great amount of gravity and tension in this story, and most of it centers around a victim’s sense of shame and humiliation.

The final element to this story is the inclusion of the secret diary, written by an Irish maid in the 1900s. This is the life story of Bridget O’Connell, and the tragic and scandalous events that changed her life. Moore entwines this story with precision, making it not only a source of mystery and suspense in the narrative, but also the figurative glue that bonds Kathleen and Natalie together. Like the main narrative, it’s also a cautionary tale, and left me greedily gulping the pages to find out what eventually happened to Bridget. It’s a story within a story, and gifts the reader with a lot to think about and discuss.

This is a book that every parent needs to read. Not only is the narrative thoroughly addictive, the messages within are hugely important and relevant. Once I picked this book up, there was no stopping me until I had turned the final page and discovered the fate of the characters who were not only lifelike, but tenderly endearing. An important book that will hold you in its spell until you turn the final page. Highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

23 comments:

Kathy said...

Wow, sounds like a good one. Adding it to my TBR list. Thoughtful review. thanks!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I agree! Adding it to my TBR as well. I especially love the idea of a story within a story :)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I'm so glad to read that this was an important book for you as well. I was so devastated by the events in the story and felt for Natalie and Kathleen. I couldn't believe that Natalie's parents were so selfishly consumed by their own lives that they couldn't see what was happening to their own child, and it was only Kathleen, with her tortured experience of losing her own daughter that made her more aware of Natalie's plight. I agree that every parent needs to read this book, absolutely no excuses.

bermudaonion said...

Wow! Cyberbullying is so scary because it involves so many people. This book sounds engrossing.

Aarti said...

Ooh, a secret diary? That sounds great. Cyberbullying, not so much. Cyberbullying really disturbs me. I think it must be horrible growing up in the digital age, in many ways...

Audra said...

Aaaaahh! I'm getting wiggly just reading your description -- this sounds great/awful -- I'm sooo adding to the TBR!!

Harvee Lau said...

Very timely topic for a novel and the author seems to have handled the story/stories very well. A book that I'd love to get my hands on - library, here I come!

Ti said...

This sounds amazing.

Cyberbullying is a real issue and very tough to address since so often the child does not mention it and once stuff hits the web, there is no easy way to erase the damage. I think it's great that the author chose to tackle such a tough subject.

Your review was obviously written with your kids in mind. I can see that. I would have talked to my kids too.

Suko said...

This does sound like an incredible, must-read story for parents. Excellent and incisive review!

Jenny said...

Wow, this sounds like a powerful read!! It's funny because yours is the first review I think I've read for this, and I was just at Barnes and Noble today looking at this book. I think I'll add this one to my list.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Wow, this sounds really heavy. It also looks like something I do think I should read, at some point when the timing is right. Thanks, as always, for the beautiful review.

Andi said...

This does sound like a great book, but admittedly, I think the premise would be very hard to read at this point in my life as a mother. An important book, though, for certain.

Beautiful review!

Athira said...

That sounds so scary! It reminds me of Speak in the sense that no one is listening to this girl. I will have to look for this one. Awesome review!

Beth F said...

I just got this in audio -- and now I'm more interested than ever to read it. Sounds so intense.

nomadreader said...

The premise of this one sounds so interesting. I remember hearing wonderful things about Mitchell Moore's first novel too. I'm definitely adding this one to my list!

Literary Feline said...

I can see how much this book touched you, Heather. It sounds heart wrenching. Having once been the victim of bullying, I know how terrible an impact it can have on a child--and in today's day and age, with cyber bullying so prevelant, it's even more horrible.

I will have to look for this book. I have a feeling it will make me angry as well as sad. Thanks for your great review, Heather.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds like a book that both parents and teen should read. SOunds powerful and emotional.

Jenners said...

Wow … I shall have to get this. I don't want to think that stuff like cyberbullying (or bullying) happen but I guess I better understand it and realize it won't go away because I don't want it to exist.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Nope, I'm probably the last person now who hasn't read this LOL Not sure why but it just doesn't interest me. I kinda feel the same way with all the hype about Shades of Grey as well.

Amy said...

The first paragraph of your review caused me to feel anxious for Natalie. I was actually worried abut her. I completely understand when you comment how maddening it was when Natalie told her story to numerous people but no one realy listened to what she was saying. That's awful. It's not really surprising that Natalie doesn't fully trust Kathleen since her experience is that she cannot trust even the people who are supposed to help her.

This sounds like an amazing, realloy well-written book. And a relevant one, as well. It shocks me how cruel children can be to one another.
This is an amazing and wonderful review, Heather!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

the subject of bullying has been one that i've been intimate with from doing features and having my own teenagers ~ cyber-bullying is becoming a fast-moving epidemic. this book sounds like it will shed light into a dark, sinister form of bullying and one that I am definitely going to read sooner rather than later

Lisa said...

As soon as I started reading your review, I was thinking that this is a book I need to read. Sure enough, I got to the last paragraph and you tell me that every parent needs to read this. Done deal - I'll be picking this one up soon!

Beth F said...

Your review soooo outshines mine, But really, it's a book that touches on many important issues.

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