31 March 2009

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Flap Copy from Cover: "Set in Kerrville, Kansas, The Center of Everything is told by Evelyn Bucknow, an endearing character with a wholly refreshing way of looking at the world. Living with her single mother in a small apartment, Evelyn Bucknow is a young girl wincing her way through adolescence. With a voice that is as charming as it is recognizable, Evelyn immerses the reader in the dramas of an entire community. The people of Kerrville, stuck at once in the middle of nowhere but also at the center of everything, are the source from which Moriarty draws on universal dilemmas of love and belief to render a story that grows in emotional intensity."

Moriarty's crowning achievement with this novel was her creation of such an honest, real character in Evelyn Bucknow, a gifted but poor student living with her irresponsible young mother on the outskirts of a small Kansas town. The author also captures in brutal reality the scary uncertainties of poverty - when the family car breaks down Evelyn can't go to school, her mother Tina can't go to work and the only available help comes with definite strings attached.

Evelyn and Tina grow up together as the novel progresses, maturing and finding their places in the world - one of the book's primary themes is that of education, or more fundamentally the power of one person to teach another. Eveyln is influenced by her Bible-thumping grandmother at the same time that a progressive Biology teacher at her school fights for the right to teach her students evolution. Evelyn's life is forever changed when one teacher tells her that she's gifted: "She takes off her glasses, still looking at me. I take off my glasses too, because for a moment I think she is going to place them on my eyes, the way you place a crown on someone's head when they become queen. Welcome to being smart." It is this 'strength of smarts' that girds Evelyn through the traumas of adolescence and leads her to a college scholarship and the elusive possibility of freedom.

I really enjoyed this book, I give it four stars. The characters are real, the writing clear and honest and the themes univeral - and yet, Moriarty keeps the story feeling fresh and as-yet-untold, in my opinion quite a feat.