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Very Far Away from Anywhere Else

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My first encounter with Ursula K. Le Guin's short YA novel Very Far Away from Anywhere Else was in college. My memory was that two different people brought it to the same story reading, and they each read half of it; but that can't be right, because it would've taken about three hours to read aloud. Maybe they only read the first half?

At any rate, I loved it. It's one of the few non-fantastical Le Guin books; the lack of sfnal aspects would normally make me less inclined to like it, but from the moment of that first encounter, it became one of my favorites of hers. Possibly my favorite at the time.

I think my favorite of her books these days is Four Ways to Forgiveness, a collection of four linked stories about slavery; powerful and moving. And most of The Birthday of the World and Other Stories is high up on my list of favorites by her, and more generally I've liked or loved almost everything she's written; she's my favorite author.

But even so, Very Far Away is something special.

I had taken it down off the shelf recently, I don't remember why, and the other day it was sitting there on my table, and I picked it up and I read the whole thing, in three or four chunks. It's only about 90 pages long.

It's about a 17-year-old boy, Owen, and an 18-year-old girl, Natalie, in the US in the 1970s (it was published in 1976). It's about friendship, and not fitting in, and music, and being human. It has very little plot, and not many characters. It is thoroughly lovely, and it makes me cry repeatedly every time I read it.

As I was reading it this time, I kept trying to figure out whether to recommend it to various kids I know. I first encountered it at age 19 or 20, and that was just about perfect for me. But the kids I know are pretty sophisticated, and most of them are being raised by fairly geeky parents; it wouldn't surprise me if some of the 12- to 15-year-olds I know would see Owen's angst about fitting in to mainstream society as kind of unnecessary and irrelevant. And some of the concerns the characters have would probably make more sense to older teenagers.

So I'm not sure who to recommend it to. But it sure is a good book.

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