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The Center of Everything Paperback – July 14, 2004
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". . . reminds the reader of the full spectrum of youthful experience in all its beauty, anger, and pain . . . lively and endearing." -- Robin Vidimos, Denver Post & Rocky Mountain News
"A warm, beguiling book full of hard-won wisdom." -- Janet Maslin, New York Times
"A winning first novel." -- Allyssa Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"Authentic and intelligent . . . One of those novels that makes you sad when it's over." -- Anna Quindlen
"Engaging . . . Her voice sounds oddly familiar . . . like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, only older, savvier, and less fortunate." -- USA Today
"Intelligent and charming debut novel." -- Elle
"Magic was spun . . . by Alice Sebold in The Lovely Bones and it is spun again by Moriarty." -- John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
About the Author
Laura Moriarty received her master's degree from the University of Kansas and was awarded the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. She is the author of The Center of Everything. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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By the end of the book, Evelyn has grown up, watching her mother who is a liberal at war with her environment (she goes through multiple crises in her life, including a fall-out with her father, being abandoned by her lover, finding herself on Social Security with a retarded baby). She watches her best school friends - the beautiful Deena and dashing Travis - go through equally harrowing growing-up crises.
That is perhaps why the book doesn't really work for me: the plot moves on and is definitely well-paced,but things happen to other people, not to Evelyn. She is a watcher - always on the outside, and she herself is certainly never the "center of everything". Perhaps this is what the author wanted to do: follow her protagonist through her growing up experience where everything bad or important is in one way or another happening to others and not herself.
But as a result, the plot doesn't quite "gel": all the threads don't come together to "shake" the protagonist (I mean Evelyn) out of her tracks:throughout, she remains wonderfully aloof and unscathed. A pity, because it is very well written, and the style (or "voice")cleverly evolves as the protagonist grows older, no small feat!
Laura Moriarty is the kind of writer that should be watched: she will certainly produce a major novel sooner or later. In the meantime, this is, in spite of its shortcomings, a must read!
The book's premise is a familiar one and lends itself toward a pedestrian trip over well-worn territory, but while there are some flat or awkward moments, for the most part Moriarty transcends the genre. The biggest reason for this is that the author's characters are fully three-dimensional, seemingly simple on the surface but much more complex in action and response. Deena as the pretty but not-too-bright girl; Travis as the warm-hearted juvenile delinquent; Eileen as the strict fundamentalist grandmother. All of these could easily have become caricature and to be honest, there were a few times they edged close, mostly in the beginning. Thankfully, Moriarty managed to skirt those dangers and allowed the characters to deepen as the book went on.
As for the two main characters, Evelyn and her mother, they stand out for the depth of their emotions and voices. The mother, Tina, deals with the scorn of both the town and her own father (shown in a wonderfully oblique fashion early on when Evelyn is too young and naive to recognize what she is reporting to the reader), the consequences of her own bad decisions, and the seeming hopelessness of her son's handicap. We see her warts and all and though sometimes we may want to shake her, you can't help but root for her through it all or feel for her in the worst moments.
The same is true for Evelyn, whose voice smoothly and winningly carries the novel. Moriarty's teens speak and think like teens and not like adults imagine them thinking, a refreshing change from too much stilted teen dialogue or bad slang in other coming-of-age books. And while Evelyn is of course more eloquent than the typical girl her age (it is a novel after all), the disconnect is rarely if ever distracting. There are some just beautifully painful teen scenes in this book, such as the moment when Evelyn realizes the boy she like is attracted to Deena. Moriarty captures this time of life vividly and realistically.
Sometimes the historical context is a bit awkward--references to Reagan for instance or to the TV movie The Day After--, Moriarty uses them to make connections or insights that are probably best made through the characters themselves rather than set pieces like these, but these are small flaws in a book that endears the reader to its narrator and leaves you sorry to leave her behind.