Author: Carol Lynch Williams
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Carol Lynch Williams is a master at presenting the tough, dark parts of life, the ones we’d rather leave untouched. In Glimpse, her protagonists were forced into prostitution. In The Chosen One, we read of a young girl who escapes polygamy. And in Miles from Ordinary, Williams tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lacey, who hopes to have a normal summer working at the library, if her Mom will let her.
The problem is that Lacey’s mom is sick, apparently with schizophrenia or some kind of related disorder. Lacey has found her a part-time job, and the book takes place on the day that Lacey and her mom are due to report to work. In the first part of the book we see Lacey getting her mom ready for work. We get some of the backstory about the dead grandfather who “talks” to Lacey’s mom. We learn that Lacey’s Aunt Linda, who used to work at the library and helped create a sense of normalcy in the house, left last year after an enormous fight with Lacey’s increasingly unstable mom. We see Lacey at work and on the bus with a cute boy, but not all that much happens. In the last third of the book, the action picks up. But the book also takes a departure– until this point, I felt like I’d been reading realistic fiction, but Lacey sees things that leave a reader wondering how realistic this fiction is. Williams has either introduced supernatural elements (heretofore absent from the plot) or she’s suggesting that Lacey too is becoming unstable. However, she seems too young to be falling prey to the same illness that her mother has (schizophrenia usually manifests in women in their mid- to late twenties). Despite these flaws, Williams’s prose is lovely, as it always is.
I applaud Williams from not shirking the hard stories. Lacey’s struggles with her mom reminded me a lot of Cynthia Voight’s Dicey’s Song, which was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. But I think that the execution is less successful in this case than it has been in some of her previous novels.