A few weeks ago there was a longform article in the New York Times about scientific studies being done with the goal of proving that bisexuality exists. I suppose it was interesting enough, reading about the motivations of the researchers, hearing about the history behind studies like this. And yet. And yet at the same time … it also felt brutally dehumanizing.
How demeaning – how beyond demeaning – to have your identity up for “scientific debate” like this. Studies like this? Real, academic studies and articles about them in a paper as significant as the NY Times? They are the embodiment of WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
When you see portraits of yourself – your life, your feelings, your struggles – when you see those in the world around you, in popular culture, in mass media: that matters. It tells you that you are not alone, that you have a right to exist, that people before you have felt this very same thing.
Those of us who work with books for children and teens – we can NEVER forget this. We can never get tired of sounding like a broken record, of buying and promoting and discussing these books and demanding more. Never, ever, ever. Because they bring the truth to light.
The truth in Tess Sharp’s masterful debut Far From You is a slippery thing and that is part of what makes this story so very compelling. What’s true is that Sophie, our main character, used to be an addict. She got hooked on pain pills after a bad accident and has only recently been clean. What’s true is that Sophie’s life-long best friend Mina was gunned down right in front of her in shattering, traumatic event. What’s true is that everyone, even Sophie’s own mother, believes Mina was killed during a drug deal gone bad when she went with Sophie to score. What’s true is that Sophie has just returned home after Mina’s murder and after another stint in rehab.
But everything else, well, that’s not as clear. Sophie knows the truth is that she was clean and she and Mina were following up on a lead in a story Mina was writing for the paper, which means that Mina was the target not the collateral. But Sophie doesn’t know who attacked them and doesn’t know the lead Mina was chasing And Sophie also knows that, no matter the cost, she is going to get to the bottom of what happened to Mina, no matter what anyone else believes.
One of the things I love the very best about this book (and I love so much about it) is that while there are multiple threads happening at once, it never feels overstuffed or distracted. Instead, everything comes together to tell the singular story of Sophie finding her own path in the world. Of course, this is a classic YA narrative and that’s part of what makes Far From You so satisfying – it is familiar and yet very fresh.
Far From You is a mystery: what happened to Mina and why? How is all connected to the story Mina was digging into? Sophie knows the scariest thing of all: whoever committed the crime is from their town and knows their stories because they planted drugs on her to throw the investigation off. Far From You is a story of recovery and addiction. Sophie became addicted to painkillers after she was in a terrible accident that left her in agonizing pain and left her disabled. How she copes with this and how it changes the person she was is fundamental to the larger elements of the story and her character development.
And I truly believe that beyond all that – Far From You is a love story. It’s a love story about the deep love between friends, between someone you have known for a long time and who has held your hand through the worst of your life. Definitely. And it’s also a love story between two teenage girls who have been friends for a long time but are on the cusp of finding themselves drawn to each other in a whole new way. Yes, Far From You is a bisexual teen romance – one that is tender, tragic, a little swoony in parts, and, yes, very, very real.
I had to literally set the book down to blink back my tears at the moment Sharpe makes it clear that Sophie is bisexual. She doesn’t just like girls and she doesn’t just like boys. She doesn’t like “only Mina” but then totally boys! She is drawn to, romantically and physically, both sexes. This realization is not dismissed, not disbelieved, not over-explained. It just is. It’s just part of who Sophie is. And while it’s an important part of who Sophie is, it’s not the only defining one. Just as important is the fact she’s a recovering addict, a girl who wrestles with chronic pain, a person mourning loss and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery. I know it seems like so little but that moment, the moment when it all clears in Sophie’s head that she likes boy and she likes girls – she just doesn’t like this one particular boy … it just took my heart with all it meant. Being bisexual doesn’t mean you’re attracted to everyone. Being bisexual doesn’t meant you’re attracted to just anyone. It just means you’re attracted to members of both sexes. In Far From You it is that simple and that simplicity is beyond. powerful.
I think teen readers will LOVE Far From You. The timelines shift between the “now” of Sophie’s life and investigation and the “then” of everything that brought her and Mina to their fateful final night, which creates natural cliff-hangers that keep you turning the pages. And Sophie is a great lead character: her faults make her feel real and her determination to chart her own course makes her both sympathetic and someone you root for. It’s also the just right mix of sad and mysterious and romantic, with no one element overshadowing the others, giving it wide appeal across readers.
But more than that – I think teen readers NEED Far From You. It’s a book we’ve been asking for. It’s a book that brings the truth to light, that gives faces and hearts and loves and losses and real damn life to bisexual girls and lesbians. These are portrayals teens need. This is a book that matters.
Far From You is out today! You can pick up a copy at your favorite local indie bookstore or online. You can also check out a copy from your local library. If they don’t have one, suggest they purchase it. Far From You is highly recommended as a first purchase for public libraries and high school libraries. It’s a book that should be widely shared and widely known. And that’s why I’m giving two away.
How To Win A Copy of Far From You
I know not all library budgets might have the cash in them they deserve. So since I want YOUR library to have this book on the shelves, I’m giving one away JUST FOR LIBRARIES. To enter THIS drawing you must be working in a library and you must make sure your copy ends up on your library’s shelves for circulation. Far From You should be in as many teen hands as possible and the goal of this drawing is to make sure it ends up in your library.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! I’m giving away another copy … that’s signed by Tess Sharpe! Tess has awesomely agreed to sign a copy for my other winner. You can keep this one, share it with a lucky teen, give it away as a drawing prize, whatever you’d like. THIS drawing is open to everyone.
All you have to do is comment on this post (with a working way to contact you) and mention which drawing you are entering. I’ll choose two random winners on Tuesday, April 14, so make sure you’ve entered by then.. Sorry, no international entries.
I am so glad I had the experience of Far From You. It was an amazing read that was also a humanizing moment of recognition. Far From You is the truth and, more than that, it’s the way into the light.
Also worth your reading time: this awesome interview with Tess on Diversity in YA