Monday, February 1, 2016

The Distance From A to Z by Natalie Blitt

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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.

Two reasons I picked this book: the adorable cover and French. It’s that simple!

Abby is anxious to get away from her sports-centric family to escape to a summer program where she can indulge herself in the love of her life: the French language. See, her parents and older brothers are obsessed with everything baseball and the Cubs (well after last season, who can blame any Chicagoan?) Anyway, Abby needs a break and to establish her own identity far removed from all that incessant baseball chatter. What better way to do that than to immerse herself in a completely different culture!

She meets Zeke on her first day there and it’s not exactly love at first sight. Unfortunately, Abby has very high standards and if a guy shows any sign of being remotely interested in sports, baseball especially, then she’s out. Zeke is charming, pretty laid back and interested in Abby, and even though she’s made up her mind to be off limits. Though she can’t help but be into him, too.

There were two things that I wrestled with as I read this. One, I felt that Abby’s instant repulsion to baseball was exaggerated. I mean, I’m not a football fan but I don’t think I’m anywhere as violently opposed to it as she is to baseball. On the flip side, I get it that when you’re bombarded with something 24/7 and there’s no refuge from it, it can become a negative in your life. However, I also felt her very vocal negativity about it hindered honesty in her brewing friendship with Zeke. Here’s what really irked me, and it’s not just this thing between Abby and Zeke because anyone is capable of it, and it's this: accusing someone of not being truthful with you when in the first place, you yourself have not created a sense of acceptance. It may not make a whole lot of sense now but when you read the story, you’ll get what I mean, hopefully.

Despite that part of the story, I enjoyed everything else. I majored in French in college (though don’t ask me to speak it because I’ve not used in since) and it was such a treat to return to the language. I liked how Abby studied it and tried to live it as much as possible. Her love of the language and the culture is evident through the writing. It’s as if you’re inside her head as she’s absorbing and processing everything. Another highlight is Abby learning to help her roommate who suffers from social anxiety. I think it was a good lesson for her to see how people adapt to the hand that they’re dealt. Abby matures a lot by the end.

The Distance From A to Z is one of the cutest reads I’ve experienced. It’s sweet and funny with some challenges along the way. Abby is your typical teenager so this summer program is very much a learning curve for her in multiple ways. I say definitely give it a go!

~ Bel

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