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In her new novel So Far Away, Meg Mitchell Moore, author of The Arrivals, intertwines the stories of a teenage girl, a widow, and an Irish immigrant working as a maid in a wealthy household in the 1920s to tell a tale of adversity and survival.
So Far Away is at its heart a story of perseverance and survival. Each woman has their own set of problems and struggles to deal with. Kathleen Lynch is a widow still coping with the disappearance of her teenage daughter years earlier. Natalie Gallagher is a thirteen-year-old coping with her parents’ divorce, her mother’s depression, and bullying at school. Bridget O’Connell is an Irish immigrant coping with new problems in a new land among people completely different from those back home.
Natalie Gallagher finds herself at the Massachusetts State Archives with a scrap of paper containing the little bit of family history her father has already researched. She carries this scrap of paper and a vague notion of what she wants to accomplish for an independent study project.
Kathleen Lynch greets Natalie at the Archives and is surprised to see something of her daughter in Natalie, the daughter she has not seen in years. This trace of her daughter draws Kathleen to Natalie and instantly she cares about the problems Natalie is dealing with. While working with Natalie in the reading room of the archives she catches a glimpse of text on the girl’s cell phone.
Natalie is being cyberbullied by a couple of girls at her school. At the same time, she is dealing with her parents’ divorce and her mother’s depression. Natalie’s world has been turned upside down and she has nowhere to turn, as her mother does not even get out of bed most days and her best friend is one of her bullies. Then Natalie finds a diary in her basement and this sends her back to the Archives.
The faded and cursive handwriting of the diary is difficult for Natalie to read. She returns to the archives seeking help in deciphering the story of Bridget O’Connell, an Irish immigrant in the 1920s. Little does she realize how much help she has found as the story of Bridget forms a bond between Natalie and Kathleen.
Mitchell switches viewpoints between Natalie, Kathleen, and Bridget, keeping the pace steady and preventing the story from dragging. Bridget’s story is doled out slowly and ends up a bit choppy, as if parts of her story are left out.
So Far Away takes on the hot topic of cyberbullying, but without a lot of punch. By mixing Natalie’s story with those of the other women, Moore shifts focus away from Natalie. While this allows us to see the other women overcoming the adversity in their lives, it also makes it harder to tell who the main character is supposed to be. Contributing to confusion is the slow way in which Bridget’s story is revealed. You want to keep reading to find out what her big secret is, and it is easier to care about her story than Natalie’s.
The characters and situations are interesting but you’re left wanting more of each woman’s story, and it can be difficult to decide where to focus your attention. Overall, So Far Away is a quiet look at adversity and survival. The climax of Natalie’s story is slightly overshadowed by Bridget’s revelation and it is unclear how Kathleen comes to her resolution. You can’t help but be drawn into each woman’s story but telling three stories combined may have been a bit ambitious.
So Far Away is Moore’s second novel. Moore spent years working as a journalist and has been published in Yankee, Continental, Women’s Health and many business magazines.