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I recently assured my niece that no interesting adults were popular in high school. This isn’t scientifically verified; I just have a hunch. I kind of hated high school—the football, the parties, the homogeny. Truth is, I remember very little about it. A friend recently added me to a group on Facebook that was put together for the purpose of planning and sharing information about an impending reunion (it’s a big one), and I honestly don’t know who these people are. Seriously, I have no clue. I do, however, remember the unique awkwardness of adolescence—a wicked combination of anxiety, insecurity, moodiness, and cruelty.
Many authors have explored this stage of life—particularly the precarious space between the normal struggle of becoming an adult and the downward spiral into something darker and more menacing. Meg Mitchell Moore’s recent novel So Far Away delves into the implications of cyber-bullying. She gracefully balances writing about a current topic with writing about the human condition and by doing so, has created a novel that will remain relevant beyond any news cycle.
In So Far Away, 13-year-old Natalie Gallagher is a girl in trouble. Coping with her parents’ divorce is made more difficult by her mother’s serious depression and her best friend’s desertion and consequential bullying of her. Natalie finds solace in the Massachusetts Archives, where she goes to do research for a school project and ends up meeting Kathleen Lynch. Kathleen is carrying her own regret and believes that Natalie’s appearance at the archives is an opportunity for some sort of redemption. In addition to these two characters, we meet Bridget O’Connell, an Irish maid who lived nearly 100 years ago. Through Bridget’s diary entries, Kathleen and Natalie form a connection to her as well as to each other.
If you’re interested in additional novels that explore the psychological aspects and challenges of families with adolescents, I was reminded of these books while reading So Far Away (annotations from NoveList):
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
For Eva, the divorced and happily remarried mother of three children, and her adolescent middle child, Daisy, the death of Eva's second husband John in a car accident turns their lives upside down.
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
In Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of skateboarding, clubbing, and squatting, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family will be forced to confront their anguish, loss, and sense of betrayal.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
When their fifteen-year-old son Jake forwards a sexually explicit video of a thirteen-year-old girl to his friends, which then goes viral, the Bergmots find their social and professional lives in jeopardy and decide to fight back, resulting in disastrous consequences.
Testimony by Anita Shreve
A New England boarding school is rocked in the wake of a sex scandal in which participants were caught on videotape, a situation that derails the innocence and best intentions of students, parents, and others in life-shattering ways.