Laura Moriarty's debut novel is a simple story, but effectively told. Ten-year-old Evelyn Bucknow lives with her not very responsible young mother, Tina, on the outskirts of a small Kansas town. The Center of Everything
follows a clean arc: How Evelyn, a gifted but poor student, negotiates the pitfalls of her background to become a college student. The book shows the scary tenuousness of poverty. When Tina's car breaks down, their life falls apart like a flimsy cardboard edifice. Evelyn can't get to school, Tina can't get to work, and unseemly relationships with men who own cars develop. The novel's other theme is the importance of teaching; when one of her teachers tells her she's gifted, Evelyn's life is changed. "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.
" As she heads into adolescence, Evelyn sees her best friend fall in love and become pregnant, just as Tina did when she was a teenager. Evelyn resists these traps, not without some lovelorn, lonely moments. The Center of Everything
careens dangerously near fingerwagging at times, but the book's salvation comes from unexpected quarters: Evelyn's mom Tina. At the outset, she seems beleaguered and lost, but as the book progresses she develops a wry resiliency. We get to watch Evelyn and Tina grow up together, and it's a rare sight. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
For 10-year-old Evelyn Bucknow, there really is no place like home. On all the world maps she's ever seen, the United States has been smack dab in the middle, with Kansas in the middle of that. "I feel so lucky to live here, right in the center," she proclaims, in Moriarty's wonderfully down-to-earth debut. Dazzled by visions of Ronald Reagan on the television, the twinkle in his eye and his contention that "God put America between two oceans on purpose," Evelyn's youthful optimism is shaken by her young single mother Tina's inability to take control of her life. As Tina falls for her married boss, who gives her a car (his contribution to the trickle-down theory) but leaves her pregnant and shattered, Evelyn grows closer to her neighbor, a curly-haired scamp named Travis (who has eyes only for Evelyn's stunning friend, Deena) and her Bible-thumping grandmother, a regular listener to Jerry Falwell's radio show. As a teenager, she is influenced by a couple of liberal-minded teachers, one an emigre from New York and the other an introverted biology instructor intent on teaching evolution, but she never cuts her family ties. With renewed faith in her scatterbrained but endearing mother and with college on the horizon, she begins to find her place in the social and political spectrum and to appreciate the vastness of a world that just might extend beyond the Sunflower State. Moriarty deftly treads the line between adolescence and adulthood, and insecurity and self-assurance, offering a moving portrait of life in blue-collar middle America.
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