A World Away by Nancy Grossman
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: I was intrigued by this book the minute I picked it up out the box and read the PR copy on the back of the galley. Sadly it wasn’t till the Labor Day weekend that I got to settle down and read A World Away (Hyperion 2012) and I’m sorry it took me so long! This was a book I really had trouble putting down. Learn from my mistake and read this lovely book right away so you can recommend it to your teens looking for something different.
Eliza Miller lives in a world that is utterly alien to most American teens. Her family has no electricity. She has never seen a movie, used a computer, worn jeans or talked on a phone. Now 16, her schooling ended with the 8th grade and soon she will be of an age to court and marry. Eliza is Amish, lives on a farm in Iowa, loves her large family – and yearns to experience the “English” life. Eliza hopes that her rumspringa or running wild time will give her the opportunity to step into that other world but that seemed mostly an unattainable dream until she is offered a job as a nanny in Chicago, helping with two children for the summer while their mother finishes her thesis. Shopping for new clothes, TV and movies, phone calls, popular music and “English” friends soon are part of Eliza’s new world – and she loves every new experience. Then there is the handsome boy next door who is as fascinated by Eliza as she is with him. As Eliza weighs and balances this tempting new world against her plain life, she struggles to decide just where she really belongs.
I was drawn to this book because of the unusual premise and I wasn’t disappointed. Perhaps the Amish life is romanticized a bit but I think Grossman has done a good job of portraying the way of life in a realistic way, revealing the people as complex and multidimensional. Eliza’s exploration of the English life is well crafted and allows teens to also look at the many facets of our modern life with fresh eyes. There is an interesting scene where Eliza is leaving the house and when she looks back the two young children are wholly absorbed in their video game, “their thumbs moving frantically, their eyes glued to the screen.”
Grossman adds a nice romance, some surprising family secrets and a high school mean girl to the mix but it is the question of Eliza’s decision that drives the story. The decision doesn’t happen until the very last and I won’t spoil the ending. But I will say that I think the ending feels authentic to this very appealing character and her experiences. Eliza’s story will linger with readers for a long time.