So Far Away
Meg Mitchell Moore
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Buy *So Far Away* by Meg Mitchell Moore online

So Far Away
Meg Mitchell Moore
Reagan Arthur Books
336 pages
May 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Like a polished cameo piece from a forgotten time, Moore’s story tells of mothers and daughters and of friendships defeated when people are persuaded through malicious intent and spiteful envy. At the core of the tale is the elaborate and unlikely relationship between thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher and kindly archivist Kathleen Lynch, a friendship portrayed both in a languid pall and with fatalistic urgency.

What gives the novel its true gravitas is the broad context of the modern setting and the irreconcilable nature of the American dream when an indentured Irish girl comes to work here in the 1920s. Much of it is eloquently articulated by Kathleen as she begins to unlock the secrets bound in a black spiral notebook written by Bridget O’Connell and given to her by a fragile, bewildered Natalie, who enters the Massachusetts State Archives asking for help with an independent school project.

Just for an afternoon, Kathleen becomes Natalie’s most trusted confidante. While Kathleen wonders why the girl is out in a rainstorm on a school day, she can’t help noticing Natalie’s resemblance to her own daughter, Susannah, who vanished a years earlier. While Kathleen blames Susannah’s disappearance on the inevitable consequences of her poor decision-making, her mind floods. She hopes to make up for her failure as a mother by offering poor, semi-orphaned Natalie solace and taking her under her wing.

While investigating the contents of Bridget's notebook, Natalie decides that the research which her father never completed is her perfect opportunity to finally do something really cool, “like research my whole family tree, go back and back.” Kathleen, who possesses a good dose of common sense, is happy to help, even confiding in her colleague and best friend, Neil, whose partner is poised to fly to Haiti to adopt a child (a pivotal story thread in the novel’s final pages).

Kathleen’s encounter with Natalie does much heal the giant hole in her heart since Susannah’s abrupt disappearance. She travels to Natalie’s home to sort out the truth behind the girl's troubles, but what she finds there ends up intriguing her from a multiplicity of perspectives. With Natalie’s father’s grim determination to move out of their home and the rift between Natalie and her best friend, Hannah, who has become unavailable, the whole terrible mess crystallizes into a series of cyber-tauntings led by Hannah’s new pal, Taylor Grant, who relentlessly jeers Natalie through vituperative text messages.

Between Natalie, Kathleen and Bridget’s sorrows and joys, Moore speaks to how our past shapes the paths we take, and how past decisions often have consequences for the present and future. Kathleen comes to a new understanding as she tries to help Natalie, acknowledging her role as a symbolic bridge between Natalie’s past and present. Natalie--flailing, bewildered and bereft--is powerless to prevent the bullying and spiteful condemnations of Taylor and Hannah. Desperate, Natalie tries in vain to seek help--first from her mother, then her father, and finally from the school guidance officer--but her pleas fall mostly on deaf ears.

The story is over quickly, leaving us with a feeling that the characters have thrashed against the close constraints of sadness. Not a word is wasted, the author's economic handling of her complex plot reflecting her subtle themes: the nature of connection and of history, and how those who love us can often be blind to the real issues at hand.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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