Published: January 12, 2016
This full-length novel by debut author Natalie Blitt is a pitch-perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins and Miranda Kenneally that proves the age-old adage: opposites attract.
Seventeen-year old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.
That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to exclusively wear baseball caps and jerseys.
But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between the distance between who she is and who he is, is worth the risk.
My Thoughts:I think there is always something really exciting in picking up a novel from a debut author, especially for review. Knowing that you are in a group of people who get to read a book before it hits the shelves (or releases online) feels like a privilege, and I always take it as an opportunity to find a book and a new voice that I can recommend to others. The Distance From A to Z was by first debut of 2016 and I approached it with high levels of excitement and anticipation. As I reached the last page of it, I might not have been as excited as I was while I started it, but still, I appreciated the effort and felt glad about the fact that I did pick it up when it was available. At least according to my Goodreads feed, I am in a minority when it comes to having slightly mixed or negative opinion of this one, and I hope this review will in some way explain why I feel that way.
The Distance from A to Z focuses mainly on Abby. Abby dreams of being fluent in French and attending a school in Paris during her senior year of high school. To get closer to that dream, she attends a summer school dedicated fully to immersing into the French language through lessons and extensive discussions with a designated pair. Abby is paired but with Zeke, a handsome jock whose spoken French is pretty much fluent, but who is at the summer school to get more versed in written French. In a true YA contemporary fashion, they of course start to connect in more ways than just through French and the rest is history...
I had a really hard time understanding Abby at points. I admired her for learning French on her own, for finding something she is passionate about and diving into it fully (I actually wish I would get that passionate about Swedish, a language I have to know to some extent in order to graduate from university). Abby's love for the French language (and culture) is explained as her way to escape her baseball obsessed family and the expectations that she should love baseball though. While I get and definitely relate with the search for something that's your own (for me, it was/is acquiring an academic knowledge of film and television), I had a hard time understanding WHY exactly Abby is so hostile towards baseball. Yes, her whole family is obsessed with it and the baseball schedule pretty much controls their lives, but at the same time, I just felt like throughout the book, I was not able to fully understand Abby's reasoning and thus a part of the book just felt kind of unexplained to me.
I should note here that I am someone who lets a sports schedule control my life. I am a massive ice hockey fan and at the beginning of every season, I mark down all of the games to my calendar and pretty much plan everything else around them. I suspect that it is partly because of this that I found it quite difficult to understand Abby. My family is really into sports too (my parents are season ticket holders and I would be one too if I lived in my hometown) and I have never felt like I want to escape that - I think it would be actually harder for me if they weren't into sports. Personal preferences and experiences have a tendency to sneak up into fiction and very often they have an effect on how we feel about characters. That certainly happened with The Distance from A to Z. I have a feeling that for someone who is not quite so into sports as I am (and certainly for someone who finds herself from a situation like Abby) this book will probably create very different emotions.
Zeke is a fairly interesting character, but I must admit I had a hard time feeling anything towards him. I usually am into the whole "jock who is not an asshole" character, because I usually love male characters who are athletes (okay...I love male athletes in general), but for some reason I just didn't find a connection with Zeke. There are some nice scenes here and there between Zeke and Abby, but I felt like too often those were interrupted by quite predictable drama and misunderstandings. The occasional dialogue in French (don't worry, there are translations) add a nice bonus to the book, and I think especially those who know some French might find them interesting (I have never taken French, so I really appreciated the translations).
The most interesting aspect (and very often the thing that kept me reading) was Alice, Abby's roommate at the summer school campus. Alice suffers from social anxiety and I was able to relate with her struggle in a way I have not related to a character in a while. She's a poet and as part of her summer school curriculum, she has to read her pieces out loud. Though I am not a poet, I have been in situations I have had to read my own words out loud (in journalism and play writing classes), so I know how those situations might feel for someone who suffers from (social) anxiety. I actually once started to cry in front of a classroom full of people when I had to tell about something bad that has happened to me - the situation was absolutely humiliating and I ended up skipping most of the classes from that semester, but at the same time it showed me that there still is a part of me that is willing to fight the anxiety - at least I went to the front of the room even though the whole thing kind of failed in the end. Throughout, I wished there would have been more of Alice and though this book wasn't really my thing, I would totally be into reading more about Alice if the author published something like that!
Though the story itself wasn't for me, there are good things to say about the writing and the pacing of the novel, because all and all, both worked quite well and kept me reading despite the fact that I had a hard time forming any sort of connection with Abby and Zeke. As I said, I am definitely in a minority when it comes to having somewhat negative thoughts about this book. And don't get me wrong - I did not hate it, I just really felt nothing about it for most of it, and in my books, that is a negative.