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Monday, May 1, 2017

YA Review: Far From You

I'm writing this when I'm really sick and gross. Be gentle on me, okay?

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Published: It was published in spring 2014, but my edition was released August 11, 2015 by Disney Hyperion.
Genre: YA Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 341 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.

The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

Review: I have about half an hour to write this before I need to take some cold medication and I probably won't be in any shape to be review writing. Also the coughing is making my head hurt. So let's go - we could summarize this as I did in a tweet by saying, "Tess Sharpe made me cry." This is very much a book about grief and mourning and it's portrayed with rough edges and hard parts, and it worked so well for me.

There are so many things in this that I enjoyed. Sophie is like my absolute favourite kind of character and this just pushed so many of my buttons. I feel completely awful right now so let's get into the nitty-gitty of everything else here.

Plot Talk: This book uses a non-standard timeline alternating chapters taking place in the past, which aren't necessarily in chronological order, and scenes in the present day, which are. The book gets total kudos that this never becomes confusing or irritating. You guys know I have kind of a fondness for these "after the big thing happens" books, but you also know that unnecessary flashbacks can seriously annoy me. These are never unnecessary. I also thought the decision to make the flashbacks a different font was super clever. My sick, tired brain appreciated the differentiating.

Characters: Oh, man, Sophie is my favourite though. Besides the fact that a bisexual main character with chronic pain and PTSD, all of which are labelled on page, is just freaking awesome, her character is blunt and not charming or soft a lot of the time, and I really, really love her. I can't really give you context without spoiling, but my favourite line of hers that describes her perfectly is just, "I wasn't subtle." I don't share any identities with Sophie so I can't speak for her representation, but I can speak for how much I enjoyed spending a book with her, and that was greatly (editing Laina - greatly? Cold medicine kicked in for that sentence). I will say I appreciated the labelling, though, personally.

The other characters felt familiar in that way that authentic small town characters do. There are definitely bigots, and unsupportive, gossipy, not very nice people, and this applies to several levels of the book. But I loved the inclusion of people who are supportive, people trying to be better, and the themes about forgiveness and how people are imperfect and hard but you can work to get to better places with them.

I'm totally rambling, but the characters are great in this. It's also a really, really interesting mystery, kind of Life is Strange minus the time travel stuff (I love that game), and I kind of guessed the answer but not entirely, and I super enjoyed the depth and complexity of the characters.

PG-13 stuff: It's an older YA and the subject matter reflects that. There's language, underage drinking and drug addiction, sex, violence, etc. It's all handled well with a lot of respect and doesn't become done simply for shock value. I can't think of any obvious triggers, but that could be the cold medicine making me fuzzy, so... maybe don't trust me on this one.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I wish some people had been described as fat? And it's really, really white and besides the main characters there's only one other queer character named once. I understand small towns (boy, do I understand small towns), but I still feel like it could have done a little better. The fat characters especially - I don't think there are any. I choose to headcanon Aunt Macy (who I love) as fat, but I don't think that's canon.

It's such a good book and does so much well that it sucks to see the things that it leaves out.

Two things I'm going to kind of point out. Sophie has chronic pain, and she gets addicted to oxycodone. The book does not talk about how this is untrue for everyone, or how reliance on painkillers to function is not necessarily the same. This can definitely be harmful. Tess Sharpe has talked about this on Twitter (her account is private - apologies if you can't see the thread, but she basically says she wishes she had unpacked this belief) and I personally appreciate that, but these tweets do not exist in the book. So you'll have to make your own decision on this one on whether you'll be okay with it.

Slight spoilers here but I wouldn't, like, not do them, so. Skip if you need to. You will also, I think, have to make your own decision on whether Mina falls into the Dead Lesbian trope. (Tess has also talked about this on Twitter.) Mina is dead at the beginning of the book and she's a lesbian, but she's not dead because she's a lesbian. My personal opinion here is that I want queer girls to be able to have stories about grief and mourning too, although those should not be the only stories they get, and it's not like it's a surprise that she's dead or anything, so I personally did not find it upsetting in the way that I've found other media that do use the trope. This is one you'll have to decide for yourself, and I'm not gonna sit here and yell at you if it's too much for you, too close or too painful.

I bring both these things up in this format because I don't have the experience to speak from on either of them, really, but I would feel uncomfortable recommending it without mentioning them.

Cover comments: I really like it. Looks a little better on my computer than in person, but I have a library copy so that's probably because of the contact paper on the book dulling it a bit. I like that it's relevant to something actually in the book.

Conclusion: Basically I don't think this is going to be a book for everyone, and I can totally understand people avoiding it because of things that would be painful for them, but if you like the sound of it, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I loved the voice, and I'm really interested in reading future books. I like the things she does with books. Knock off a star for no fat people/the very few other issues I had, but this is still a four rose book for me.

Note from editing Laina: I'm much better now. Sinus infections suck, though. Do not recommend.

Peace and cookies,

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