Saturday, September 17, 2011

Miles From Ordinary, by Carol Lynch Williams

Given how crazy Mom is, it falls on Lacey to protect her mother from flying off the rails. Sometimes, Mom is OK, but if Lacey isn't careful, Mom will go and do something nutty (like spend all of their money on food to survive an impending war or she'll wander half-naked into other people's homes). Aunt Linda used to help out some, but after fourteen years, Lacey has come to understand that she's the only one who can take care of Mom.

All of that may change on a special day when Mom is trying out working her first day as a cashier at the Winn Dixie. Lacey hopes that this may give her Mom a sense of purpose and some focus with which to straighten out. Lacey, meanwhile, is on her first day of volunteering at the library, which may give her an outlet away from Mom. Things don't go well, but in the midst of the crisis that develops, Lacey befriends a boy who may inspire Lacey to take some hesitant initial steps towards changing the downward trajectory of her life.

I'm not a fan of kids-in-peril stories and this novel takes the parts of that genre that I despise most (hapless adults, abusive manic-depressive mothers, and codependent families) and puts them on steroids. Reading a story like this basically begs the question: why? Why write a story like this? Is it supposed to be inspirational? I'm tempted, instead, to see it as exploitative.

I kept hoping for some relief from the continuous dark grind, but what I got was 195 pages of child abuse (with the slight possibility that an adult might come through in the end to look out for Lacey). The whole experience is made more painful by a broken timeline, heavy on flashback. This is probably intended to make the grind easier to bear, but it mostly makes us passive recipients of the horrible things which we already know will come. The supporting characters (the boy, the aunt, etc.) are largely throwaway. Gratuitous animal death appears as well. What's to like?

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