Happy President's Day/Post Valentine's Day, everyone!
Today, we're reviewing Far From Fair by Elana K. Arnold. I've been looking forward to this since hearing about it from Elana at Annual, and I just have to say now: it does NOT disappoint.
This is a great story about family, tough choices and learning how to find your place in a tough new normal, and I think it's going to strike a chord with many readers.
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Expected publication: March 8th 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Format read: ARC via publisher
Introspective and thoughtfully written, Odette's journey is a highly relatable one, and will have readers cheering, crying and laughing, as she struggles to find the fairness in her new life.
With warmth and sensitivity Elana Arnold makes difficult topics such as terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers and apt for discussion.
(Because seriously. Look at that cover. How could you not want to read it?)
After learning more about the book, including the fact that it involves a road trip that I've actually done with my family, and I immediately knew I had to read this book.
Things that worked:
What I loved about Odette from the get-go, is that she's mad at her family and she's not afraid to show it.
Arnold beautifully captures Odette's frustrations at being forced to accept all of the changes to her life, and her utter anger at feeing like she's unable to control any of the things that are happening to her. It's a very relatable feeling that many readers will have likely experienced and consequently, Odette's initially bratty moments - e.g. rejecting the dog gifted to her by her dad; snarking at every possible moment - is something that readers will empathize and understand.
The secondary characters of Far From Fair are fantastic, as well. Though this is very much Odette's story, Arnold skillfully fills in backstory for her family and friends, showing their challenges as they adjust to their new normal, and how it may be harder than expected to not bring the problems of their old lives into this new one.
Though I liked all of the characters, I was especially sympathetic to Odette's dad. Arnold smartly able captures his eagerness at trying to make a tough situation work - a situation that has been created thanks to his own volition - and his struggles with trying to relate to a growing tween daughter, who rejects everything he does out of hand. It's something I saw a lot in my own dad as I was growing up, and Arnold definitely deserves kudos for capturing the frustrating universalities of fatherhood.
This is very much a road trip story, and Arnold does a nice job of using the forward momentum that comes with travel, to show Odette's gradual evolution in this new life.
While Arnold doesn't spend more than a few days at each stop along the way, the moments that Odette does have at those locations, emphasizes that sometimes, it's the small experiences that will help shape us and encourage us to grow.
Even when Odette and her family settle into a more routine pattern on the island, it's with the understanding that they are there to be with Grandma Sissy in her final days, and time continues to pass quickly. Though it's never explicitly stated, there's a subtle emphasis on the idea that sometimes, both good and bad things can come and leave our lives quickly, and it's up to us to make the most of it while we can.
Arnold is skillful and adept in showing that despite the forced closeness of the Coach, Odette's family situation is far from perfect.
Her parents have obviously been struggling with their own relationship issues, and younger brother Rex is susceptible to fits that leave the whole family reeling from the strength of his anger. Readers will undoubtely appreciate Odette's struggles at wanting to understand her parents and younger brother, but also empathize with the feelings of exasperation that she would never be able to get away with doing anything similar.
But even as the relationships between family members gradually being to improve, Arnold is careful to show that there will never be any perfect relationships. Family will always be a challenge, and it's up to one to love and accept them, and also encourage them - sometimes even when it involves a mad dash to ferry ride to find a boy - when one can.
On the darker issues
Arnold absolutely doesn't hesitate to show the struggles and pain that comes with Grandma Sissy's cancer, including the impact that it has on the family.
While Arnold skifully utilizes Sissy's illness to share some introspective ideas on the importance of living life to the fullest, it's her acknowledgement that life will go on in the face of such illness that is the most appreciated. Odette struggles with the idea that she's crushing on a boy while her grandmother is so ill, and her mother's encouragement that it's okay to be sad and to also pursue one's own life, that serves as a wonderful, intelligent reminder for readers on how to handle tough, emotional situations in a healthy way.
Without giving spoilers away, Arnold shows that it's always possible to adjust and find your place, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Odette does so beautifully, and it definitely helps her journey come full circle.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I'll be honest: I can't think of a single thing. Any of the usual things that I would normally think to critique in other novels, Arnold has covered thoroughly and beautifully here. Move on ahead!
Though Odette begins the book as a misunderstood and angry youth, she's also an immensely relatable one. Readers will absolutely recognize her struggles to come to terms with new life and appreciate the moments where she steps up to accept the challenges placed in front of her. It's a sign of her growing internal strength, and readers will appreciate every moment of that journey - temper tantrums, unexpected dogs, unusual friendships and all.
Highly recommend for all fans of MG contemporary titles, full stop.
About the author:
ELANA K. ARNOLD completed her M.A. in Creative Writing/Fiction at the University of California, Davis. She grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of several young adult novels as well as the middle-grade novels The Question of Miracles and Far from Fair. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Visit her website at www.elanakarnold.com.