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Miles from Ordinary: A Novel

Miles from Ordinary - Carol Lynch Williams I could not put this young adult novel down, after reading the first few pages. The subject matter is definitely riveting. The tension is palpable as the story moves toward its climax. This author has done a masterful job of getting inside the head of a child who is filled with a sense of responsibility, loyalty and duty, to a very mentally ill mother, and also inside the head of the mother, as well. The guilt the child feels about her inability to help her parent is so powerful that you can feel it yourself and sympathize with her. It might be a book adults should read as well, for it might help them understand the obstacles facing the mentally ill and their caregivers.
I am not sure what age range is appropriate for this novel. Although the main character is just 13, the concepts raised, as her memories are explored, may be for a much older young adult; perhaps it would be better for someone at least 15-16 or older so that the subject matter can be absorbed without negative impact. This is one scary book. If it is made into a movie, it could qualify for a showing on Halloween! Mental illness, with all of its ramifications, needs to be understood so that compassion is the end result, not horror or vengeance or the ridiculing of those afflicted.
A young 13 year old girl comes of age in this touching, but also deeply disturbing tale of the obligation and guilt a child feels for a sick parent who is loved in spite of all her short comings. The child is charged with a task beyond her years, of caring for her emotionally disturbed mother, with the spirit of her grandfather haunting them in the background, disturbing her mother’s thoughts and ability to live a normal life. She has lost touch with reality.
It is too much for a child to handle such an enormous burden and yet she bears it with nobility. Her sense of responsibility is so strong that she fails to see that she is incapable of handling her mother and keeping her safe. Her own safety is in jeopardy and yet, the authorities can’t help her unless something really goes wrong, unless her mom harms herself or her. Her aunt who kept the household in a semblance of normal has left, thrown out by her mother and forbidden to return with a restraining order. The system has failed the child. As so often happens, the mentally ill can outsmart the authorities. They may be disturbed but they are not stupid.
Lacey is friendless, lonely and alone, and for company, all she has is her enormous responsibility for her mother, who lives in a world of fear haunted by the memory of her father. Her days and nights are filled with nightmares and thoughts about her mother’s safety, her Aunt Linda, her own lack of freedom and the ghost of her grandfather. She is devoted to her mom but longs for moments of peace, normalcy and friendship.
Lacey is sheltered because she has not really been exposed to the world. Her mother’s fears have kept her isolated. She has been overprotected by her fearful parent. Other than her schoolroom, where she is ridiculed by the other children who have obviously overheard, or been informed by their parents about Lacey’s mom’s difficulties, she has little in her life.
One day Angela, her mom, showed up at school, disheveled, with mismatched clothing, in need of Lacey’s help to find her medication. While her teacher was kind, her classmates who witnessed this embarrassing moment, were not. Her mom has wandered in the neighborhood, entered neighbors' homes and sat down at their dinner table uninvited. She is always afraid and/or sad. She has done many odd things and Lacey tries to protect her, all the while wishing she could be part of the world out there where other families live, where sadness is banished and happiness enters the home instead.
Lacey’s life has taken a new hopeful turn. She has obtained a volunteer job in the library where her Aunt used to work and she has filled out an application for her mom to work in the local market. Her mom has passed the interview and they are both beginning work on the same day. This is Lacey’s summer vacation and she is hoping her life will change for the better.
On the bus, riding to her job, one of her neighbors, a boy named Aaron, befriends her. She lets down her guard and is hopeful that her life will now blossom into something new and exciting, bright and happy, rather than the dark and gloomy way she lives within her home, where her mom keeps windows closed and shutters tight so as not to let in anything dangerous. Yet, the day ends in a waking nightmare for her.
This book takes the readers to places they have probably not been before; it takes them inside the head of the disturbed person and the person charged with her care; the reader suffers with them and also feels their fear. For a little book, of less than 200 pages, it packs quite a punch.