Firstly, a HUGE happy book birthday (in advance) to Helena Hill’s Long Steady Distance which releases tomorrow. I won an e-ARC of this book and just finished reading it yesterday. It was definitely one of my most satisfying novella-length reads (PDF Version – 150+ pages), in recent months. And, I might be speaking a bit early, but I think this would also make it to my year-end list of favorite book covers. Check out the illustrator’s ( Mhaladie: Elizabeth Julien Coyne) profile on Twitter and on her Tumblr and on her website.
Here’s five reasons why you should check this book out:
1) It is set in high-school and against the backdrop of the year-long track and cross-country racing competitions. My knowledge of inter-school track-n-field competitions’ schedules and routines is literally zilch. But, the author provides such a lovely window into their daily lives, that you don’t really mind feeling occasionally lost about who’s timing how much in which race.
2) Through Sophie, who is biracial and from the “poorer” part of the city”, it does bring in issues of race and classism, but the story never becomes “about” race or class differences. It is resolutely focused on Emily and Sophie figuring out their feelings for each other before giving a thought (or “defining”/”labelling”) to what that means.
3) It is a sensitive portrayal of a teen’s anxieties – about coming out to their family, to friends and to the society at large. Through Emily, it also touches upon insecurities and the feeling of being a part of a facade when her mom remarries after her dad’s death. She gets a stepfather, stepsister (who she dotes on) and step-aunt/uncle/cousin/grandma. I liked how, though pretty ambivalent about her step-dad, she doesn’t lose perspective and sees that he isn’t a bad person. Just not someone she can connect with. It is these little things – like, not painting everyone or their perceptions about each other in absolute terms – that makes this book come across as so thoughtful and wise.
4) It seamlessly merges in discussions about religion v/s atheism and I love how Emily and her Mom handle their differences wrt faith. It was, well, uneasy, but mature and respectful. There is also a discussion about Christianity and verses from the Bible and how they view homosexuality. As I am not that well-informed about the religious texts, I am not sure how to comment or critique it. But I really liked the idea and just the approach of characters looking towards religion itself in order to examine and understand their own beliefs instead of not confronting it at all. (Note: The quoted verses is a very small section of the book and required in context, so you don’t have to be apprehensive about this book reading like “religious fiction”, )
5) The peripheral characters make quite an impact too. Sure, there is a usual trope-y mean girl (who influences a lot of the events that happens in the end of the book) , but most of the characters feel authentic, and though some of them just get a line or two, and make up the rest of the runners’ team, I still felt like I knew them and cared for their running scores, them beating their own personal record times and so on.
: Rating:A fabulous debut novel!! Simple but engrossing and doesn’t rely on unnecessary drama to propel the love story forward. Sticks to telling the story it is intended to. Provides a great snapshot into the life of a high-school teen – her favorite subjects, teachers, passions, family and friends.