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Far Away

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Far Away Book Poster Image
Wild road trip drives emotional story of lies, loss, love.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Far Away's wild narrative packs in a lot of detailed information, mostly unusual but interesting, such as the various jobs that go into producing a live stage show, the practical details of choosing a route on road trips, how to drive a stick shift,  the techniques used by mediums to make people believe they're talking to the dead, and the practical details of creating art. Also other information, as when one character points out another's classic symptoms of anxiety.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the bonds of family, the ones you're born into and the ones you make for yourself, and pursuing the truth, wherever it leads -- and learning to balance zeal with kindness. Respect everyone's particular talents, and work together for a good result.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the characters in Far Away -- kid, teen, and adult -- are doing the best they can with the information and circumstances they've got. This leads to a lot of relatable situations that yield a lot of life lessons, even though it would probably have been better to avoid them in the first place. Bright, strong-willed, and quick-thinking, CJ shows a lot of determination, creativity, and, yeah, questionable judgment. Her new friend Jax overcomes his own anxiety to look out for her as her crazy schemes unfold. As for her Aunt Nic,  CJ's loving caretaker and an increasingly successful medium -- is she a con artist, or is she helping people, or maybe both? Other adults are kind, helpful, and forgiving, while some are shockingly self-absorbed and flaky.

Violence

Many scary, perilous situations, including a 12-year-old girl browbeating a 16-year-old boy into an unauthorized road trip in a truck he can barely drive, and later taking a bus ride at night in a strange town by herself, to a house she's never been to.

Sex

CJ is the product of her then-teenage mom's "whirlwind romance";  her biological father has no idea she exists, and she has no idea who he is.

Language

Occasional mentions of "butts." Occasional "hell," "moron."

Consumerism

Occasional mentions of brands and businesses as part of the scene setting, such as Dairy Queen and Oreo.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lisa Graff's Far Away is about a 12-year-old girl, CJ, who goes on a road trip to find something she believes will keep her link to her dead mom alive. The novel is full of dicey situations (like narrator CJ's Aunt Nic making her living on the talking-to-the-dead circuit) and kids-don't-try-this-at-home moments (like when CJ teaches 16-year-old Jax to drive a stick shift so they can take off with her aunt's truck on an important quest). But there's a lot to love in this tale of young CJ's determination to stay connected with her mom, and how it leads to the discovery that pretty much everything she knows isn't exactly true. Also how everyone involved is dealing with some heavy stuff -- loss, betrayal, anxiety, abandonment, deception -- and mostly doing the best they can with they've got. There's forgiveness, wisdom, and life lessons learned. There are harrowing, hilarious adventures, plus memorable, unusual characters, some real surprises, and moments of pure joy.

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What's the story?

CJ Ames' mom died right after CJ was born. CJ's Aunt Nic has cared for her lovingly ever since -- and CJ still gets to talk to her mom all the time because Aunt Nic is a medium. But on CJ's 12th birthday, Aunt Nic tells her that her mom's going to a spirit world FAR AWAY -- meaning no more conversations. Determined to find the one physical object from her mom's life that will keep her tied to our world, CJ is soon trying to make sense of assorted signs and portents, which often seem to be leading her (and assorted people along the way) to crazy schemes, as well as places and discoveries better avoided.

Is it any good?

A 12-year-old's life on the tour circuit with her aunt who speaks to the dead is just the jumping-off place for Lisa Graff's imaginative, often funny tale of love, loss, forgiveness, and family. Far Away weaves a tangled web of emotions and things that may or may not be true, where characters do a lot of wrong things for what seem to be the right reasons (and vice versa), and there are surprising plot developments along the way. Then there's bright, strong-willed narrator/protagonist CJ herself:

"'I'm teaching you to drive stick,' I say.

"'How do you know how to drive stick?' Jax's knuckles are gripped tight around the steering wheel. 'You're, like, ten.'

"'I'm twelve,' I reply. 'Today's my birthday. And your uncle taught me stick, same as he taught you.' I pause. 'Well, way better than he taught you, obviously. You're not giving it enough clutch. You gotta press all the way to the floor.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about talking with the dead -- and stories about people who do it, or say they do. Why do you think this is a popular theme? How does this theme come up in other stories you know? How does Far Away compare?

  • Does Far Away give you any insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the shows you see on TV, especially the different kinds of work involved? Do you think you might like to work in television?

  • Do you know anyone who suddenly learned that something they'd always believed about themselves or their family wasn't really true? What happened? How did they deal with it?

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