August 17, 2018

Book Review: Never That Far by Carol Lynch Williams


Never That Far

by Carol Lynch Williams

Genres: Children's Literature, Middle Grade, Fiction, Fantasy 
Publisher: Shadow Mountain 
Length: 176 pages 
Published: April 3, 2018 
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Note: Among many other titles, Carol Lynch Williams is also the author of The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson which I read years ago (4 out of 5 stars) and The Chosen One which I've not yet read but recently purchased. Williams once presented as a guest speaker in an undergraduate creative writing course I attended; I remember her being kind, funny, and genuine. 

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars 

Official Book Summary:

"Libby Lochewood is twelve years old when her grampa dies of a heart attack. She is devastated at losing her best friend. Now that he’s passed on, it’s just her and her father, and he is so overcome by grief that he can barely get out of bed in the morning. The night of the funeral, though, Grampa’s spirit appears in Libby’s bedroom and tells her three important things: first, that she isn’t alone or forgotten-“The dead ain’t never that far from the living,” he says; second, that she has “the Sight”-the ability to see family member who have died; and three, that there is something special just for her in the lake. Something that could help her and her father-if she can find it.

Libby begins her search along with her friends Bobby and Martha, but it’s hard to know if they’ve found what Grampa wanted her to find since they don’t really know what it is. As Libby’s father falls deeper and deeper into depression, Libby and Grampa work together to help her father believe that their loved ones who have died are much closer than he thinks. But it will take all of Libby’s courage and her gift of Sight to convince her father that the dead are never truly gone."

Quote:

"The dead ain't never that far from the living."

Other titles by Carol Lynch Williams

Excerpt:

"'What you doing, girl?' Daddy said when the burying was done.

I stood on the unpainted block fence and looked off East.

The Lake Mary Church of Christ preacher, Melinda Burls, had said the dead go East. Couldn't give me a reason when I asked her why.

'They just do, Libby,' she said, and with one finger, she touched the top of my head like she was baptizing me all over again. Then she tapped her stomach where a long string of fake pearl beads ended up. 'I know it right here.'

'In your belly?' I squinched my eyes.

The beads swung over her scrawny self. I felt a little sorry for her. But not too much.

'In my heart,' she said."

My Book Review: 

Very earnest (perhaps too much for some readers), but a beautiful story about family, death, grief, the afterlife, and families being united forever.

Williams' middle-grade, children's novel begins in medias res after the funeral of twelve-year-old Libby's best friend and grandfather. Now that life is just Libby and her father (her mother died years earlier), Libby feels lonelier than ever. Her father goes off to work during the day, occassionally the local preacher woman will stop by or do some cooking, but Libby's life is quiet and her grief feels overwhelming. One night after his death, Libby's grandfather appears to her in her bedroom. Grampa lets her know that he's there for her, that others in her family have had this ability to "see" beyond the grave, and that he left her something special in the lake. Though Libby tries to convince her father of the true of Grampa's otherworldy visit, her father remains stubborn and doesn't want to speak of the subject. Compelled by the mystery to discover what her grandfather left for her to find in the lake, the novel takes on a magical realism mode as Libby befriends a boy who's determined to help her in her search. More importantly, he believes what she said she saw.

The novel is very earnest (perhaps too sincere for some readers), but overall it is a beautiful story about family, death, coping with grief, and families being united forever through an afterlife. There were areas where I wish Williams had provided more backstory or detail; her descriptions are lovely and well-written, but I would have loved her to establish what life was like before Libby's grandfather died as well as to better transition between some of the scenes and moments of action.

That being said, I enjoyed the novel's sweetness and was motivated to look into more of her novels since it has been many years since I read The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson. Her book, The Chosen One, looks interesting and tackles contemporary polygamy. If you have read other Carol Lynch Williams novels, I am interested to hear your recommendations.


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