"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 9, 2012
Miles from Ordinary: Empathy with a Little Horror for Good Measure
by Erin Cowles

When October comes around, I like to use my reading selections to get into the Halloween spirit. The problem is that I am a monumental wimp. The commercials for “The X-Files” gave me nightmares when I was young. I usually opt for classic horror stories like Frankenstein, which are usually more psychological than scary.

Since those don't count as YA literature, I'm going to profile a novel I read a few months back that gave me the creeps: Carol Lynch Williams' Miles from Ordinary. Again, remember that I am a wimp, so you aren't going to get any Stephen King reviews out of me. This is as creepy as I get.

Lacey carries a heavy load. At age 13, her support network has fallen apart. Her father is not in the picture, her mother is extremely mentally unstable, and the aunt that was keeping everything under control was forced to move.

Lacey has taken on the role of caring for her mother, and she lives a lonely life because she feels she has to keep others at a distance to protect her mother. They are out of money, and her mother's delusions about Lacey's dead grandfather haunting and controlling them are getting worse.

Although the story is fleshed out with flashbacks, this novel covers a 24-hour period in Lacey's life where she tries to take control of her circumstances. She gets a job for her mother at the Winn-Dixie, actually makes a friend on the bus, and heads to the library for her own volunteer position. She's optimistic that her life has taken a positive turn. But when she leaves work and discovers that her mother is missing, everything falls apart in a terrifying and suspenseful way.

I know that's a vague statement that doesn't sound terrifying or suspenseful at all, but I can't get more detailed without giving spoilers.

The best part of this book was the narrator's voice. Williams gave Lacey a strong and distinct voice, and it was memorable and absolutely convincing. Her words felt the way my brain worked when I was a young teenager — hopeful, sensitive, and vulnerable. Some readers argue that the voice is more middle grade than YA, but I thought it was written so powerfully that the small discrepancy doesn't take anything away from the story.

Its other great strength is that Williams can demonstrate the power of an empathetic friend while still allowing the main character to solve her own problems. Lacey's situation makes her a social outcast, but her classmate's choice to see her strength and ignore her circumstances gives Lacey the courage to face the ugliness in her life.

This was a gutsy and empathetic book. Although its ending is hopeful, it is also rather disturbing, so don't pick this one up unless you can handle your literature a little dark.

Read this book if...

  • You're less wimpy than I am.
  • You want a novel that can create suspense and horror without leaning heavily on monsters and the paranormal to provide it.
  • You want to gain empathy for people that have fallen through the cracks, and witness how much reaching out to them can mean.

Target audience: Girls, ages 12 and up.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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