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Far from Xanadu Hardcover – May 4, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many of the themes that Peters mined in Luna appear in this novel, but are more smoothly integrated, making this a more accessible read. For one thing, Mike (born Mary-Elizabeth), who narrates the novel, does not lead a double life, as Luna did. When Xanadu transfers to Mike's small Kansas school, she initially mistakes the narrator for a guy; Mike works out obsessively and dresses in her father's clothes (he killed himself two years ago). Mike, who "acknowledged" she was gay but doesn't embrace it like her male best friend, Jamie, falls hard for the troubled newcomer. The author creates a vivid backdrop in rural Coalton, and it's refreshing that residents accept and even embrace Mike, donating money to send the star softball player to an exclusive camp ("I never, for one day, felt judged or excluded or persecuted in Coalton"). Mike is a unique and realistically complex character, and while she wants to go to camp, she initially resists the town's charity. Her fallout with her morbidly obese mother doesn't seem quite severe enough given the two years of silent treatment she's received, and her own confused feelings towards her father at times seem forced. While Xanadu never becomes as real or as likable as Mike, the author convincingly paints Mike's physical attraction to Xanadu, as well as the heroine's descent into drinking as her obsession with the straight girl grows. Ultimately, readers will root for Mike and will come to understand her pain and need for love. Ages 12-up. (May)
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From School Library Journal

Grade 10 Up–Mike Szabo must deal with more than her share of problems in this engaging, angsty novel. Her alcoholic father committed suicide, her obese mother has given up on life, and her no-good brother has driven the family plumbing business into the ground. To make matters worse, Mike falls deeply in love with a new girl in their small Kansas town. Bad-girl Xanadu has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle after getting into serious trouble dealing drugs. She befriends Mike instantly, though she's undeniably straight, and Mike suffers when Xanadu starts dating. Mike copes by working out at the gym, fixing her neighbors' plumbing, leading her softball team to a winning season, and occasionally binge drinking with her friends. Throughout the novel, she struggles to come to terms with her sexuality–while she is attracted to girls, she doesn't want to label herself, and objects when her gay best friend, Jamie, tries to do so. The people of Coalton are accepting of Mike and Jamie, but eventually Mike realizes that she will need to leave her small town in search of a first relationship, and that her athletic talent might give her a way out. Despite the multitude of difficulties the protagonist faces, the story never slips into melodrama, and all of the issues are handled with sensitivity and compassion. Xanadu sometimes threatens to become a stereotype as the exotic, sophisticated outsider who is also manipulative and selfish. Overall, though, readers will root for Mike in this heartfelt coming-of-age story.–Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031615881X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316158817
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,543,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For the last 20+ years, I've been writing books for young readers. My YA novel, Luna, the story of a transgender teen beginning her transition from male to female, was a National Book Award finalist and an American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. (Thank you award committee members.) My other books about gender queer youth include Keeping You a Secret, Far from Xanadu (retitled, Pretend You Love Me), Between Mom and Jo, grl2grl: short fictions, Rage: A Love Story, She Loves You, She Loves You Not..., It's Our Prom (So Deal With It), and my newest book scheduled for 2014, The Double Life of Swanee Durbin. Also check out my book about bullycide, By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead.

I'm a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, PEN America, the Authors Guild, and the Colorado Authors' League. I live with my partner, Sherri Leggett, in Lakewood, Colorado. (We're celebrating our 38th anniversary this year.

More information about me and my books can be found on my Web site:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Tibbetts VINE VOICE on April 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mike is buff. Mike makes All-State in fast-pitch. When the gorgeous redhead, Xanadu shows up in the tiny Kansas town, Mike falls madly in love with her. But Mike -- aka Mary-Elizabeth -- Szabo is a girl.

Whether you're straight or gay, first love is painful. And Mike falls hard for the exotic beauty from the Denver suburbs with a troubled past. A friendship sparks between them immediately but Xanadu is straight. When she falls for Bailey, one of the local cowboys, Mike's emotions are turned inside out.

Dealing with her strong feelings for Xanadu stirs up emotions that Mike has buried for two years. Growing up, her dad filled her head with a big dream of a softball scholarship to college. But her dream died when he committed suicide. Mike watches her best friend, Jamie find romance with Shane and latches onto the new dream that her love for Xanadu will change her.

Meanwhile, her coach, Mrs. Kinneson, also the school principal, revives her big dream by tempting her with the promise of a slot at fast-pitch camp. But Mike doesn't have the money and she doesn't accept charity. When the townspeople take up a collection to send her to camp, Mike comes to terms with her own self worth.

Her dreams collide when Xanadu comes running to her when she falls out with Bailey. Mike believes this is her dream that's meant to come true.

"Far from Xanadu" is a witty and sensitive portrayal of a gay teen that cuts through all the differences between us to the single life experience that unites us -- first love.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By terryannlibrarian on December 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mike is instantly lovable and heartbreakingly realistic. Her inner dialogs are not only believable, I couldn't get them out of my head. It was so refreshing to read a book about a gay teen that didn't have to worry about being teased and abused by peers as Mike and Jamie are both accepted and loved in thier home town Coalton. (although, a little too convinient)

There are many other things going on in this book besides Mike's love/angst for Xanadu. She is dealing with her morbidly obese mother who ignores her, her emotionally distant older brother, the lost family business, being the town softball champ, her father's suicide, and her friend Jamie's new cyber love. IMHO, the author tackles all of these issues well.

There is an internal element in this book that is often missing in teen literature, adding depth and feeling that made the book stay with me.

The down-to-earth ending resolves much for Mike, but leaves some of her relationships up in the air, astonishingly like real life.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By grrlpup on August 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mike, the main character, is easy to care about. Her problems are complex and give her a lot to chew over as we get to know her: a dad who killed himself, a brother who's screwing up his life, a love for the family business, and a small town that's good to her but made her feel like a charity case. Frankly, the teen romance laid over the top of this is the least interesting part of the story.

Some aspects of the setting and plot are hard to believe. Conveniently, there seems to be one gay boy and one gay girl in this town, and they're best friends. No one is homophobic or gets in their faces about it, even though the boy is a cheerleader and the girl is a weight-lifting softball dyke. There are a few subtle signs of disapproval from adults, and that's it. In one way it's refreshing, and lets the book be about other things. In another way it's a little too good to be believed.

The plot strikes a balance among storylines about friends, family, dreams, and romance. However, Mike's refusal to believe what is right in front of her face goes on for much too long. It's a case of the reader seeing the truth long before the character, and having to wait for the character to catch up. The end featured a heart-to-heart talk between two characters who had been barely speaking to each other, and I didn't really see what had changed to make their relationship so much better all of a sudden.

So the story is somewhat predictable. The setting, while not entirely believable, is a beautiful place to hang out for awhile. Think idealized midwest, like in "Field of Dreams." And in the middle of all this, Mike and her best friend, and one or two of the other characters, do come to life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dave Parker VINE VOICE on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well-written story chronicles part of the coming out struggles of a teen-age lesbian in rural northwest Kansas.

Two years after her father's suicide, Mary Elizabeth (Mike) Szabo is struggling to accept herself as her family is attempting to go on without him. Her mother has withdrawn into alcoholism and gluttony. Her older brother has given up on his future. Mike rotates between being a good student, the star of the local fast-pitch softball team, and the town's most accomplished plumber.

When a gorgeous new girl joins her tenth grade biology class, it is lust at first sight. Mike quickly befriends this new girl - Xanadu - as each recognizes the other as a fellow rebel. But while Mike is out to her best friend Jamie - a very out gay boy she has known for years - she is closeted to almost everyone else.

Mike and Xanadu quickly become best friends. However, Mike's friend Jamie quickly points out that Xanadu is straight. Mike is not sure; she hopes Xanadu will recognize and accept her love.

Some adult readers may find the language offensive in a couple scenes, but it reflects language that is in common use by teens.

This is another excellent book from Julie Anne Peters.
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