Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.
That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.
Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer—but can she track them down before they come for her?
This review will get slightly spoilery. I’m trying to avoid spoiling the major plot developments at least, but I may have nudged a few minor ones.
Far From You by Tess Sharpe is the first book I’ve read with a bisexual protagonist, which also makes it the first book I’ve read that has a main character who identifies the same way I do. Sophie doesn’t have any particular issues with identifying as bisexual, explicitly referring to herself as such in the text. In a media environment that often balks at labelling characters who clearly display attraction to more than one gender, that’s an important thing. Honestly, it should happen more often and we shouldn’t reward entertainment media for “including” a bisexual character if they don’t have the balls to actually acknowledge the character as such. I don’t have time for that “labels are for soup cans” nonsense. It’s incredibly important, especially in media for young people, that LGBT people are visible and acknowledged for two reasons: so LGBT kids can see themselves represented as the heroes of the story, and so cisgender heterosexual kids see it normalised and accepted so they’re more likely to do the same in real life. I wouldn’t mind having characters defying labels so much if it wasn’t the norm when it comes to identities such as bisexuality being portrayed in the media. So kudos to Tess Sharpe for doing that.
Sharpe also doesn’t shy away from the issue of drug addiction. Sophie is an addict. She’s self-aware about it and how it colours every aspect of her life, because even though she’s been drug-free for over nine months, it will always be a part of her. She routinely has to remind herself in moments of stress how far she has come as a way to stop herself from relapsing. Knowing how hard she fights to maintain her sobriety makes the behaviour of the adults in her life, how so many of them refuse to see past her addiction to find the truth behind Mina’s murder, all the more frustrating.
Sophie is also physically disabled and it affects her capabilities throughout the novel. It’s the reason behind her drug addiction in the first place, because she suffers chronic pain from the injuries sustained in a car crash years ago. Like her addiction, dealing with her pain is an undercurrent in her narration. Much of her physical recovery and spiralling into her resulting Oxycontin addiction is developed through the use of flashbacks interpersed between the chapters pushing the immediate plot forward.
We get to know Mina through these flashbacks as well. Sophie seems to idealise Mina in a way at first, which is understandable since she is grieving for her, but that rosy view of her quickly falls away through the flashbacks as we get to the core of who Mina actually was. To me, much of her behaviour can be explained by her upbringing coming into conflict with parts of her identity, which in turn led her to act out in certain ways, but I won’t say too much on that front in the interest of not getting too spoilery. Basically, although much of Mina’s behaviour was hurtful, I felt like I could understand why she acted the way she did.
I’m glad Sharpe chose not to push Sophie into a relationship so soon after losing Mina. It would have been very easy for her to do so, but ultimately I feel it would’ve weakened the story as a whole. Sophie spends so much of the novel replacing her addiction with an obsession over solving Mina’s murder. To me, she needs time and distance before she might, in theory, be ready to open her heart to anyone else, assuming she ever will be.
The writing itself had no particularly special qualities to me. It did its job and got out of the way, which is a strength in itself. It didn’t feel like Tess Sharpe was writing for the sake of indulging her own ego at any point in the book. I generally prefer a little bit of a lyrical quality to the prose I read, but its absence didn’t bother me overmuch. I’d prefer overly simplistic prose to unnecessarily dense any day.
The only real issue I had with the book was the abundance of characters, which actually led me to forget who the hell several of them were partway through the story. That’s probably more of an issue with me than with the book, so I’m not too annoyed by it.
Overall, Far From You is a strong contemporary YA novel with a compelling murder mystery. It does, however, fall into the “bury your gays” trope, which is particularly prevalent in television and cinema. Girls who love other girls just seem to die a lot in entertainment media. I don’t have anything against death being used as a plot point (I eat angst for breakfast), but I do believe we need a wider variety of representation overall so it doesn’t feel like such a large ratio of LGBTQ characters are dying as opposed to being allowed to live happy lives. That said, however, I did very much enjoy reading this novel.
End note: I’ve just spent a little time in the #BiYABooks tag today where we’ve been having a discussion about this book. All the issues I’ve discussed here are talked about in more detail there, plus some I didn’t touch on. Spoilers ahoy, so be warned. Tess joined us to share some notes about the characters’ lives after the end of the book.