It seems like lately I'm reading a lot of intense books focusing on loss and regret, but this one touched these elements and shook the foundation much, much more. So Far Away (available for pre-order now) by Meg Mitchell Moore is a reminder to not look away, to not expect that someone else will take care of the problem that is right before you. After all, maybe you're supposed to be the one to fix it.
Bridget was an Irish immigrant who moved to Boston and became a maid for a rich family in the early 1920s. When her diary is uncovered in the cellar of a house by thirteen-year-old Natalie, it's Bridget's story that brings Natalie into Kathleen's life. Through this stirring and heart-rending story, Meg Mitchell Moore has beautifully woven three lives together to create hope for two women who are at different points in life. Natalie is beginning her young adult journey and Kathleen nears retirement. Each has their own pain to share, but both have just as much at stake.
At thirteen-years-old, Natalie is a little older than her years. Dealing with her parents' separation and her mother's depression that leaves her sleeping throughout the day and night, along with the cruel cyberbullying from her former best friend is completely devastating and has made her grow up much sooner than she should. People disappoint and drop their loyalties with others all the time, but she shouldn't have had to learn it so young in life. Her independent study project in school has grabbed her interest and has provided the distraction needed for her when she finds an old notebook in the cellar of her house on Milk Street, hidden in the shadowy back corners. Researching its potential relationship to her family brings her to the Massachusetts State Archives and to Kathleen.
In her late fifties, Kathleen feels like she has already lived her life and suffered losses with no chance to recover. With her husband passing away at the start of their marriage, Kathleen's daughter Susannah is everything to her, but when she loses Susannah, too, life becomes just one more day after another. When she meets Natalie, Kathleen doesn't initially understand that maybe this young girl might be someone she can finally help, to make up for all of her earlier losses. She doesn't realize that through Natalie, and through Bridget's diary, Kathleen may even be able to save herself.
I enjoyed this book and found that it was quite difficult to put the story down. Each character had a distinct voice, even secondary characters like Kathleen's co-worker Neil, who was struggling to adopt a child from Haiti with his partner, Adam, ended up being a background story that became just as important to me as the book went along. I enjoyed each aspect of the story and felt all of the crucial messages that the characters delivered, but Natalie's story was ultimately the one I anxiously waited for it to return back to when the perspective shifted either to Kathleen or to Bridget's diary. I guess I just wanted to make sure this young girl was okay. Her tormented school life completely enveloped me, simply because I just can't stand it when people pick on others. I cannot stand it.
Cyberbullying is just not something to sweep under the rug nowadays. Each generation develops different ways, meaner tactics representative of the times to exert influence and control over others, and today's younger generation uses social media and texting to bully. Physical fighting happens, but cyberbullying now adds a completely different complexity to it. School systems can no longer avoid this deeper issue, and I think the biggest message to all of us, those with or without children, those who work with children and anyone who comes in contact with today's generation, should take this passage seriously (note: this is an uncorrected proof so the finished copy may reflect changes):
Who did Kathleen think she was, to think that she could get involved with this mess with Natalie? Then again, who was she to think she couldn't?
With painfully difficult moments and hard truths of life, I enjoyed the story and writing immensely. It's clear that Meg Mitchell Moore has a passion for the subject matter, and she is an author I'll look forward to more from her, and I'll also be sure to pick up her debut novel, The Arrivals, as well.
So Far Away had all the elements I enjoy: Boston, archives, research, an old diary. It's given me a lot to think about and I very much so recommend this book.
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Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: 5/29/2012 (available for pre-order now)
About the Author
Meg Mitchell Moore worked for several years as a journalist. Her work has been published in Yankee, Continental, Women's Health, Advertising Age and many other business and consumer magazines. She received a B.A. from Providence College and a Master's Degree in English Literature from New York University. The Arrivals is her first novel. Meg lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with her husband, their three children and a beloved border collie.
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley for my honest review.