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Far from Fair: 07/30/16

Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold

Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold is a complex novel about family sacrifice wrapped up in a road trip narrative. Odette is making a list of THINGS THAT AREN'T FAIR because her whole life is being turned upside down. Her parents have sold their house, sold most of the family possessions and stuffed the remaining things into an ugly brown RV. Odette's Mom says that she and her brother will be "living their education" (p. 62).

In my research into the road narrative, the prototypical road trip is one starting from New York and following the old Lincoln Highway route (more or less) and ending in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Or it starts from Chicago and follows the old Route 66, one that probably many an American name the entire route, thanks to the song of the same name.

In this mindset, there is little thought given to anyone interested in going anywhere other than California, and certainly it would be anathema for a Californian to want to leave to head anywhere else, unless they were in a rural portion of the state and wishing to reach the promised land San Francisco, Los Angeles (Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, or San Diego (Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White).

For those Californians that do wish to leave the state for a road trip, the assumption is that the route will be taken in reverse to either Chicago or to New York (Across the Continent by The Lincoln Highway by Effie Price Gladding).

For those of us living in California and partaking in road trips, the natural flow of things isn't East, it's North into Oregon and Washington. Heading East requires a lot of back tracking to first get to an interstate that crosses the mountains or by passes them through one of the southern valleys. The options are I8 (for San Diegans), I10 or I40 (for Angelinos) or I80 for the Bay Area.

Far From Fair takes the natural flow, I5 through the San Joaquin Valley over to the 101 in North Bay to the Oregon Coast to avoid Grants Pass. Sure it has the Grapevine but the Grapevine for Californians is like a rite of passage.

As Odette and her family travel north, she's given time to ruminate on her new reality. She starts angry. She has all these emotions that as a tween she's struggling to process. She knows that her father made a noble sacrifice to save the jobs of three lesser paid employees but she doesn't understand why she should be happy at this sudden upheaval.

Each new location, though, each mile between her old life and her new life gives lessens the initial blow and gives her newfound perspective. With nothing else to do but watch the road and the changing landscape, Odette is transformed by the road.

And then in the final act, the road trip takes a pause on a small island in Puget Sound, Orcas Island. Here is the reason behind her father's sudden decision. It is ultimately a chance for Odette's family to say goodbye to her grandmother. So wrapped up in the metaphor of road trip to list of injustices that I wasn't expecting a story about cancer and the right to die (a law now also on the books in California as of June 9th, 2016).

Like Polly Horvath's Vacation, the book has an open ended conclusion. Elana K. Arnold doesn't tell us if Odette and her family chose to stay on Orca's Island or to continue their trek in the RV. In my imagination, they split the difference: taking over the shop but keeping the RV for trips later on.

Five stars

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