Friday, 8 June 2012

A Long Way from You - Gwendolyn Heasley


PROS: Good character development; “fish out of water” coming of age story; total escapism

CONS: Open ending might disappoint some readers; not quite as compelling as her first novel

Kitsy Kidd has never been on a plane and doesn’t own a passport, but she’s spending this summer in New York City, attending a program at a prestigious art school. She’s always dreamed of becoming an artist, but the closest she’s got in the little town of Broken Spoke, Texas is doing her friends’ make-up before prom. This summer offers her the chance of a lifetime, but New York has plenty of temptations that often seem far more appealing than remaining safely within the walls of her art school and working on her pottery and drawings. Before she knows it, Kitsy’s wearing her friend Corinne’s outfits, attending parties with an aspiring actress and hanging out at the band practice of a boy who seems to appreciate art the way she does. At times, it’s easy to forget Broken Spoke, the stresses of her unconventional family and the stability of her boyfriend, Hands, even when she’s not immersed in her artwork. When she returns home after four weeks, will she still be the same Kitsy? Will she be able to look at Broken Spoke through the eyes of an enlightened New Yorker and still see the beauty in the small town she’s been running away from?

Kitsy Kidd was the enthusiastic, peppy cheerleader who befriended stuck-up Corinne in Gwendolyn’s debut novel, Where I Belong. I was a little sceptical of reading a book about Kitsy as, while she was nice, she didn’t seem to have a lot of depth in Where I Belong. But after the first few chapters of Kitsy’s story, I had to admit that I’d misjudged her and that there was far more to her than the pom-poms suggested. The hints that had been dropped about Kitsy’s family life in Where I Belong were expanded on, and it was heart-wrenching at times to see how Kitsy stretched herself between school, art, cheerleading, her boyfriend, holding down a part-time job and looking after her younger brother, all because her mother wasn’t terribly reliable. I was rooting for Kitsy to enjoying being a teenager during her time in New York, and although I enjoyed her character development, I didn’t want her to grow too much; it seemed like she’d already had to do too much growing up in Broken Spoke.

Like Corinne in Where I Belong, Kitsy is a total “fish out of water” in her situation. She’s come from a small town where she knows everyone to New York City. The complete reversal of Corinne’s situation was a lot of fun to read, and I could relate to Kitsy better that Corinne as I have a similar upbringing. I grew up in a village which has exactly two shops, and our school is so small that once you reach the age of eight, you have to get a bus to the next town. Moving to St Andrews was a culture shock to me, and it “only” has a population of 16,000, so I’m pretty sure I’d be just as bewildered as Kitsy was in Manhattan. And since I’ve never visited New York (or been outside Europe, for that matter) I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of all the places Kitsy visited. Gwendolyn really made Kitsy’s explorations of the city come to life, especially her trips to MOMA. Even if you’re not an artist or an art historian, I’m sure you’ll find it fun being inside Kitsy’s head and seeing how she interprets art. I can’t say I’m such a fan of modern art as Kitsy is, but both her visits to MOMA and her art classes piqued my interest. Perhaps those who grew up in New York might not be so interested in the descriptions of Central Park or Kitsy’s adventures on the subway, but I have a feeling that seeing the city through Kitsy’s eyes, rather than those of someone who grew up in a city, would make for an interesting read, even for a native New Yorker. Since I used to fantasise about visiting New York as a child – because that’s where my favourite author (and Gwendolyn’s!), Ann M. Martin, lived – A Long Way from You was blissful escapism.

While I thoroughly enjoyed A Long Way from You and will definitely be adding Gwendolyn to my list of “comfort read” authors, I was torn over the ending and the way Kitsy’s relationship with Hands was dealt with. Like Where I Belong, this novel had a fairly open ending. In a way, I appreciated that Gwendolyn doesn’t go down the route of neatly tying everything up in a bow, with the boy of your dreams tossed in for good measure. The endings to both her books have emphasised that your story does not end when you’re a teenager, and you still have a lot of growing up to do. As someone who read far too many romance novels as a teenager and had unrealistic expectations of meeting my perfect guy when I was fifteen, I could have done with some of Gwendolyn’s books back then. But as a romantic at heart, I did really like Hands, and I like to think that he and Kitsy stayed together despite their different dreams. Some readers might interpret their relationship differently, which is the good thing about the lack of conclusion to this book. I’m one of those people who like things to be tied up neatly, so I’m torn between wanting Kitsy to have her perfect ending and not wanting teenagers to have unrealistic expectations of high school and relationships.

Gwendolyn’s second novel is definitely a bit deeper than her first, dealing with a dysfunctional family and a teenager who has taken too much on in life and needs to escape for the summer and explore who she is. I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Where I Belong, but I definitely enjoyed it. Kitsy is an endearing character, and even if you’re familiar with Manhattan, you’re sure to enjoy seeing it through Kitsy’s eyes. While I felt quite torn over the open ending, I’m sure everyone will imagine the continuation of Kitsy’s life differently, and as such, take something different out of their experience of reading A Long Way from You. I still can’t decide if this novel had a specific message, and every time I think about it I come up with a different lesson. I’m not sure whether Gwendolyn’s next novel will follow up another reoccurring character from her first two books, or whether she’ll introduce someone entirely new, but either way, I’ll definitely be reading it.

Disclaimer: There were a few instances of underage drinking in this book, but Kitsy was very responsible with what she drank. A few of her friends smoked, but she did not partake. There are suggestions that one of the reasons that Kitsy’s mother is neglectful is because she drinks too much, but this situation is dealt with very tastefully. There is one brief illusion to a sexual situation between two secondary characters, but nothing graphic.

Review title provided by publicist.


  1. Okay...I'm going to start reading YA. I think I'd love this book. Also, I get tired of YA movies where the high schoolers think it's going to be HEA, just because I know how much things can change. Looking forward to seeing how the open ending is sounds realistic. Thanks!

    1. I went through a phase of really not liking YA fiction - when I was about 16 and thought I was "growing out" of it - but now I'm starting to appreciate it again. Gwendolyn Heasley is a good author for not having obvious HEAs, so I'd definitely be happy giving this book to my hypothetical teenage daughter. I totally overdosed on Sweet Valley as a teen and was convinced I'd meet the man of my dreams in high school. I did actually meet him in my first year of university, and I'm now getting married at 20, so the characters who stay with their high school sweethearts forever aren't THAT unrealistic - I'm sure you can agree? ;) But all in all, I hope more YA fiction like this appears. Coming of age stories are a lot more compelling for us old fogies than vampires and undying love commitments between fifteen year olds :)