Book Review

Far From the Tree

Oh my goodness. Dear readers, please do yourselves a favor and read this fantastic book. It’s the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner, and it deserves that title a thousand-fold. Also, Robin Benway is a super sweet and wonderful person, so you should read more of her books just in general.

I met Robin through my MFA program, and sat down for a one-on-one with her where we talked about YA and writing. I came home from that residency struck by how approachable and kind she was, so I went to read some of her books. And promptly emailed her to tell her how much I loved her stories. She responded! Which is always a cool feeling, for a fan.

Later, I listened to her First Draft podcast with Sarah Enni, and was struck all over again by how authentic, and intelligent, and kind Robin is. She talked about the writing process in a way that had me crying, listening to that podcast. I highly recommend it, especially if you listen to it after you’ve read Far From the Tree, so that you can really connect to how she talks about the characters.

As far as the book goes…well. If a podcast made me cry, you can be damn sure the book made me cry, too. On the train. On the bus. In front of unsuspecting Seattle strangers. And I didn’t even care because oh my goodness everyone needs these emotions in their life. Everyone needs to hear these stories.

Maya, Joaquin, and Grace are three very different characters. They have unique voices, really particular ways of seeing the world. They tug on your heartstrings at every turn. Maya was probably my favorite, because she’s hurt and angry and defensive and I think it’s because she has the most tender heart. I can relate to that. 🙂

The narrative arcs for each character just kind of sneak up on you. You don’t know for sure how things will turn out, or what they are supposed to accomplish, but it’s really beautiful how messy and lovely their journeys are. It’s very much a stand-alone novel, as well—I would love to spend more time with Grace and Joaquin and Maya, but their arcs do wrap up at the end of this novel, with no big teasers leading to a sequel. There’s a sense of closure there that was kind of healing to get to, after traveling with them through such emotional stuff.

There’s a million things I love about this book that I don’t want to spoil for you. It’s beautiful writing. It’s compelling characters. It’s gritty and real and makes your heart ache. Go read it, all of you.

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