Monday, May 10, 2010

Far from Xanadu

So yeah, put nearly all of Julie Anne Peters' other novels on hold at the library after reading Luna, and of course they all arrived at once. First I picked up By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead, but I was like, "No, Elissa, you're not allowed." As you may guess from the title, it's about a very suicidal girl. Suicide is not one of my favorite topics--it's not among most people's favorite topics, but since my dad killed himself when I was nineteen, it's plummeted to the bottom of my list.

I read a little bit, to see if I could handle it. I even flipped to the end, to see if she killed herself. Far as I can tell, it's an ambiguous ending. Regardless, I didn't need to spend the time with Daelyn, in her head. I wasn't about to do that to myself. I don't stop reading a book very often, but I shut this one and returned it to the library after the first couple of chapters. I didn't want it in my house. So number two was RAGE: A Love Story. Queer girl in high school, just barely starting to come out, has a long-standing huge crazy crush on one of the badass dykes at her school, one of the "LesBo Dykes, or Les Beau Dykes"--and things start to happen, but the reader can tell long before Johanna can (or really before Johanna wants to) that the LesBo Dyke, Reeve, is really big trouble. Like, big trouble beyond what that usually means in a teen novel. Really big trouble like physically abusive. Oh and also hottie abusive dyke's brother appears to have Asperger's, her mom's a crackhead, and mom's string of abusive boyfriends also abuse hottie abusive dyke and her brother. I felt like I was reading Go Ask Alice. I quit reading somewhere around when Johanna went to school with a black eye. I couldn't do it.

So then I picked up Far from Xanadu, which an awesome teen librarian friend had said was her favorite of Peters' books. First four words: "After my dad's suicide." First sentence: "After my dad's suicide, the town council decided to remove the bottom portion of the ladder from the Coalton water tower." Mike's drunk of a dad jumped off the water tower in the small Kansas town they live in. But the first scene is her (yeah, Mike's a girl) climbing the water tower, using the ladder she and her best friend hid in the grass at the foot of it, so she can watch the sunrise from the top. "Dad said angels painted the sky at dawn and dusk. Dad was a liar, but I could almost believe him on that one."

I almost took Far from Xanadu back with the other two, but I didn't. It was hard to read, but so good, and so true. Also, there are plenty of books about those crisis moments: hearing the gunshot, finding the body. Dealing with the shock, the breakdown. But this is a book about Mike two years later, still there, still dealing with it. Or not dealing. It's about her rough relationship with her mom, which just gets rougher after her dad dies. About her relationship with her brother, and what they lay on each other or don't lay on each other, the ways they watch each other hurt and can't really reach each other. Besides, in their family, the Szabos, they don't ask for help. As her brother says, "It's not our way."

Far from Xanadu was really hard for me to read. But it's awesome. I'm glad it's in the world. Nice to read a book about grieving someone two years out: Mike is still thinking about her dad all the time, he's fucking up how she's living her life, she's not doing things she wants to do to spite him, blaming him for choices she can't make.

Oh, and Mike is gay. And crushed out on a straight girl. But this isn't a novel about that, not only. She just is that way, and is dealing with it, and it's part of it. Like how it happens in real life.

I'm reminded of how I gave Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to a student my first year teaching, and when we talked about it, she was telling me how much she loved it, how much she loved all the stuff about religion and figuring out what you believe. I didn't remember any of that. I remembered Margaret getting her period, and wearing a pad on a belt. But Khazanah is Muslim, and she read a different book than the one I read. She read a book about a girl who is very close to her Jewish grandmother, and whose Christian grandparents on the other side disowned her mother when she married a Jew. A girl who has her own private relationship with her own God, and can't figure out how all of it fits together, fits her. Just as many people will read Far from Xanadu as a story about first love, maybe, or home, or the dreams you have for your life--and yeah, family is a big part of it, but oh my god can you believe she...?!?! But to me, it's about a girl who lost her dad in an awful unexpected way that's left her furious and heartbroken, and two years later she's only starting to sort some of it out and take her own life back. But she is sorting it out, and she is moving forward.

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