A World Away--Nancy Grossman
July 2012 by Hyperion
A summer of firsts
Sixteen-year-old Eliza Miller has never made a phone call, never tried on a pair of jeans, never sat in a darkened theater waiting for a movie to start. She's never even talked to someone her age who isn't Amish, like her.
A summer of good-byes
When she leaves her close-knit family to spend the summer as a nanny in suburban Chicago, a part of her can't wait to leave behind everything she knows. She can't imagine the secrets she will uncover, the friends she will make, the surprises and temptations of a way of life so different from her own.
A summer of impossible choice
Every minute Eliza spends with her new friend Josh feels as good as listening to music for the first time, and she wonders whether there might be a place for her in his world. But as summer wanes, she misses the people she has left behind, and the plain life she once took for granted. Eliza will have to decide for herself where she belongs. Whichever choice she makes, she knows she will lose someone she loves.
Eliza's journey really resonated with me. Knowing what was expected of her, but still being curious about the outside world. The tension between living authentically but letting people down and living a lie that preserves everyone's expectations. Feeling torn between two worlds and seeing no way to choose both. I love how the novel resolved. I thought that Grossman would have to end before Eliza revealed or made her choice because many readers would never understand why Eliza would choose an Amish life and many others would feel betrayed if she chose an English life. But in the end, this worked really well. Eliza's choice was the right choice for her. It made sense for her and her journey, and Grossman didn't try to sell it as the only choice that should be made.
The shunning was just heartbreaking. I think all religions, from the most isolated to the most open, participate in shunning to some degree. Communities are defined in part by borders, so what do you do when someone crosses those borders? I don't have a lot of great answers to that, nor do my personal religious affiliations, but I know they shouldn't shun. Rules should not be more important than people. In that light, I loved the relationship between Beth and Eliza's mother. I can't say too much without spoiling things, but it was just...right.
And the romance wasn't stupid and corny! I know that doesn't sound like high praise, but it is. In recent years I've lost a lot of patience with YA romances. I feel that they usually get in the way of the much more interesting parts of the story. This book did not make me swoon. In fact there may have been a bit of eye rolling. But it was fine for the most part. And I am so glad that Eliza explicitly made her decision for herself and not for a boy. This could have turned into an awful triangle where she lived her life based on the boy she choose, but it wasn't. Thank you YA gods. I will go sacrifice the requisite goat.
Minor complaint time. Super minor. Barely even a thing: The book is slightly dated. This feels weird to say since the book was only published in 2012, but it was. It wasn't anything huge: a brief mention of renting a movie from a rental store, the continued popular existence of CDs, and one of those early generation ipods that used the spinny circle thing to menu options. I wanted one of those so bad in high school! Ahem. Back to the review. Other than those minor dated references, Eliza's transition into the "normal" world worked really well. I loved her exploration of modern technologies and the minor mix-ups, like thinking that Josh worked at a fruit stand since he sold Apples.
A World Away appeals to the universal experience of feeling out of place and stuck. While it tells a very specific story, many readers will find elements of themselves in Eliza.