ARC Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe


title:  Far From You

author:  Tess Sharpe

pages: 352

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-1423184621

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Looking for Alaska by John Green, The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher, and Sarah Dessen.  Some sexual content.  

My Ratings Explained

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.

The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared

the basics
This book was a pleasant surprise.  I was fearful of a cheesy, overwrought murder mystery plot.  Instead, I got a murder mystery wrapped up in friendship, struggle, love, and poignantly-expressed emotion.  Sophie could easily be the self-obsessed unforgiving addict, but she's much more than that.  She's a girl who's seen the other side.  She's accepted her disease and come to understand what she once saw as betrayals from people who put her into rehab.  She's also complex in ways I can't fully describe without spoiling.  Moreover, her story is truly about friendship.  She relies on Trev, Rachel, and Kyle to help her solve Mina's death.  Each of them feels fully realized and fleshed out.  And they trust her, instead of forcing her into the isolated martyr hero role.  The writing is starkly beautiful at times and very fluid.  What results is a beautiful exposition of growing up and first love.  The mystery is exciting, but it's as much about knowing Mina as it is about the killer.  This was not an easy book to put down.  

plot . 4/5
The plot reminded me very much of Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf.  We have a murdered best friend, a mystery the cops don't understand, a friend desperate to find the truth--about the murderer, about their friend.  Only in this one, Sophie receives no posthumous missive from Mina.  She only knows that something Mina was working on connected her to that place and that awful night.  The plot is part mystery, part self-discovery.  With both present and past segments, I could watch the development of Sophie from innocent kid to addict to survivor, and the maturity and strength that came with it.  There are many glimpses into her friendship with Mina, and she acknowledges both the good and the bad; a nice change in a world of fairytale romances where people seem to wear blinders.  

I also loved how much time revolved around her repairing relationships with friends and family.  It made the book feel more realistic, less like a cheap mystery.  And the mystery was certainly not cheap.  Sharpe sprinkles clues from the very beginning and knows just when to reveal twists and turns.  She also keeps it appropriate to what a gang of high school kids could possibly achieve.  The final revelation was shocking but well set-up.  My main complaint is the end--or ends.  There are about 30 more pages than there needed to be.  Yes, closure is nice, but instead it felt draggy.  Like she wanted to wrap up everything.  It ended up feeling like the neverending third Lord of the Rings endings.  

concept . 5/5
Sharpe manages to mix a thrilling mystery with a sweet self-discovery plot, and both feel well attended to.  On one hand, you have the murdered best friend and the people who survive her, desperate for answers.  It feels natural that Sophie would look into Mina's death--especially since everyone, including the cops, think it was a drug deal gone wrong.  It's also a clever vehicle to show Sophie's connection with Mina and how she comes to know her more deeply through Mina's final project, a journalism piece that got her killed.  Very prominent through the book is the blurry line between friendship and love.  The nature of love.  The danger of secrets.  Sharpe tackles tough territory without being maudlin or exploitative.  

characters . 4/5
Sophie was instantly likable to me.  She's a little quiet and reserved but she packs a punch when she needs to.  She stands up for herself.  Her greatest enemy is her own pain.  She (and the others) also just feel generally like teens.  Getting older, growing in maturity, but still stepping one foot in childhood.  Mina herself is one of the most well-developed characters.  Through her secrets and the flashbacks, we see all her charms and flaws.  Sophie is a biased narrator but not a delusional one.  She doesn't hold back from blaming Mina where it's due; but she also has a deep love and admiration for her best friend's whimsy and tenacity.  Then there's Trev, my favorite, who has some of his sister's fire--but it burns more quietly in him, and turns to compassion where his sister had selfishness.  Kyle and Rachel are nice additions but don't feel as real as the others, particularly Rachel.  I think it's just difficult to understand Rachel's motivations.  I also wish that Sophie's family was a little more present.  She does manage to sneak out a lot without anyone batting an eyelash, considering she's grounded.  

style . 5/5
Sharpe is a talented writer.  She has a great grasp on the teenage voice, giving her characters a feeling of authenticity.  It makes Sophie's narrative sound real, like it could actually be a seventeen-year-old girl reflecting.  She also gives Sophie's voice a touch of maturity that stays believable and gives Sharpe some leeway to play around with words and spin some truly beautiful phrases.  I wish I'd quoted some before I sent this book along, because there were some passages that just captured something so perfectly.  

mechanics . 3/5
The chapters switch between the present and various points in the past, from the car crash that introduced Sophie to Oxycontin to touching moments with Mina that illuminate both of their characters.  I found them jarring at first.  I didn't like being pulled out of the present.  I never quite loved them, but I did grow to appreciate them more.  I could see how Sharpe carefully juxtaposed certain passages to make a point.  It just got annoying when I was nailbiting through a tense scene and then had to wait a chapter to figure out the conclusion, like constant cliffhangers.  I don't know what I would have preferred, but it's just a style that doesn't work as well for me.   

Also, the cover design is not only evocative but really clever.  You'll have to read it to find out why.  

take home message
A mystery that's as much about the narrator finding herself as it is about her finding the killer.  Reminiscent of John Green, this book is deeply beautiful and human.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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