A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Wild narrative packs in a lot of detailed information, mostly unusual but interesting, such as various jobs that go into producing a live stage show, practical details of choosing a route on road trips, how to drive a stick shift, techniques used by mediums to make people believe they're talking to the dead, and practical details of creating art. Also other information, as when one character points out another's classic symptoms of anxiety.
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
Most characters -- kid, teen, adult -- are doing the best they can with information and circumstances they've got. This leads to a lot of relatable situations that yield life lessons, though avoiding situations in the first place would probably have been better. Bright, strong-willed, quick-thinking CJ shows determination, creativity -- and questionable judgment. Her new friend Jax overcomes his own anxiety to look out for her as her crazy schemes unfold. Aunt Nic, CJ's loving caretaker and an increasingly successful medium: Is she a con artist, or is she helping people -- maybe both? Other adults are kind, helpful, forgiving; some shockingly self-absorbed and flaky.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Occasional mention of "butts." Occasional "hell," "moron."
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Products & Purchases
Occasional mentions of brands and businesses as part of the scene setting, such as Dairy Queen and Oreo.
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 what 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.
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 andmain character 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.'"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.