Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Both Sides Now: Far From Fair by Elana K. Arnold

"You want to talk, Odette?" asked Dad.

She shook her head into the bedspread. "No," she said to the mattress.

There was a pause. "It's going to be okay, honey, I promise." He sighed and then Odette heard him walk away. He left the door open.

Dad promised it would be okay. As if he had that kind of authority. That kind of pull with the universe.

To Odette it was clear as a glass of water that things were not okay. Not by a mile.

Odette's parents are getting everything wrong.

Something has gone wrong between Mom and Dad. And what do they do? Dad takes a voluntary layoff at work, they sell their perfect house, with Odette's perfect bedroom with the pink ceiling, They have a yard sale and sell practically everything she's ever known. Odette and best friend Mieko sit sadly in the for-sale armchairs and watch her little brother Rex, lost in the excitement of the moment, sell his beloved set of "Cubes," clear boxes with model animals inside. She watches strangers buy her the special cushions she chose for her bed.

As a sorry consolation, Dad gets her a dog--not the big, hug-able, funny Lab of her dreams, but a tiny ratlike mutt with a pointy nose and sharp little claws at the end of its laughably short legs. Her parents buy an ugly brown R-V, drably named "the Coach," declare her and Rex "roadschooled" kids, and take off up the Pacific Coast, supposedly for a long visit with her sick Grandmother Sissy.

From living in a big, two-story house with all its familiar things, Odette finds herself confined with no privacy, the four of them, the dog, and Rex's ferret, thrown together all the time, with only private place a bathroom the size of a broom closet. There are some good stopovers where they have fun, but with long days of monotonous driving, endless boring games of Uno with Rex, a flat tire that sets Mom and Dad to sniping at each other, and a soggy search for Rex's missing ferret on a rainy night, the togetherness is not happening. And then Rex has one of his "Furies."

"Mom! I can't find my Whales, Porpoises, and Dolphins Cube."

"Oh, honey," Mom said. "You sold it at the yard sale, remember?"

"No," wailed Rex. "I wouldn't! I want my Cube! I hate this! I can't believe you made me sell my stuff. You ruined everything!" Rex screamed.

Then Rex started the scream-cry-laugh thing he did. He hit himself, pounding his fists against his thighs. "We can order one online," Mom promised.

"I don't want another one," Rex cried. "I want my One!"

Mom started crying, too. She pulled Rex close. "I know." she said.

Odette's tears dripped down on her dog's black fur.

And when the family arrives at the island where Grandma Sissy lives, she tells them she is dying and that she wants them to be with her when she makes it happen.

Elana K. Arnold's latest, Far from Fair (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is a book about loss and endings, but more than loss, it is about beginnings, two sides of the same door, as Grandma Sissy said, and Odette and her family are able to see something good ahead through that door.

The good and the bad, all mixed up together."That's life," Grandma Sissy says.

In Arnold's moving, very real story of a family going through loss and into a chance for a new life, Odette's own coming-of-age is an insight that, like her little brother, everyone wants their One. and that family can be that One. Putting twelve-year-old Odette in the center of this story, a character just moving out of childhood, brilliantly points up Arnold's thesis that change, giving up some things as doors close and open, is a part of life, a part of life in which the ties of family are ultimately essential.

". . .an engaging, emotional ride as Odette learns the truth of one of her grandmother’s sayings: 'Even in the bad... there is opportunity for good,'" says Publishers Weekly's starred review.

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