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The Center of Everything

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“A warm, beguiling book full of hard-won wisdom.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“The Center of Everything is as realistic and familiar as a summer day in Kansas–brave and gritty, strong voiced and spare.”–O, The Oprah Magazine

Set in Kerrville, Kansas, The Center of Everything is told by Evelyn Bucknow, an endearing character with a wholly refreshing way of looking at the world. Living with her single mother in a small apartment, Evelyn Bucknow is a young girl wincing her way through adolescence. With a voice that is as charming as it is recognizable, Evelyn immerses the reader in the dramas of an entire community. The people of Kerrville, stuck at once in the middle of nowhere but also at the center of everything, are the source from which Moriarty draws on universal dilemmas of love and belief to render a story that grows in emotional intensity until it lifts the reader to heights achieved only by the finest of fiction.
Laura Moriarty’s debut novel is a simple story, but effectively told. Ten-year-old Evelyn Bucknow lives with her not very responsible young mother, Tina, on the outskirts of a small Kansas town. The Center of Everything follows a clean arc: How Evelyn, a gifted but poor student, negotiates the pitfalls of her background to become a college student. The book shows the scary tenuousness of poverty. When Tina’s car breaks down, their life falls apart like a flimsy cardboard edifice. Evelyn can’t get to school, Tina can’t get to work, and unseemly relationships with men who own cars develop. The novel’s other theme is the importance of teaching; when one of her teachers tells her she’s gifted, Evelyn’s life is changed. “She takes off her glasses, still looking at me. I take off my glasses too, because for a moment I think she is going to place them on my eyes, the way you place a crown on someone’s head when they become queen. Welcome to being smart.” As she heads into adolescence, Evelyn sees her best friend fall in love and become pregnant, just as Tina did when she was a teenager. Evelyn resists these traps, not without some lovelorn, lonely moments. The Center of Everything careens dangerously near fingerwagging at times, but the book’s salvation comes from unexpected quarters: Evelyn’s mom Tina. At the outset, she seems beleaguered and lost, but as the book progresses she develops a wry resiliency. We get to watch Evelyn and Tina grow up together, and it’s a rare sight. –Claire Dederer

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