Far From Fair
March 08, 2016
Odette Zyskowski has a list: Things That Aren’t Fair. At the top of the list is her parents’ decision to take the family on the road in an ugly RV they’ve nicknamed the Coach. There’s nothing fair about leaving California and living in the cramped Coach with her parents and exasperating younger brother, sharing one stupid cell phone among the four of them. And there’s definitely nothing fair about what they find when they reach Grandma Sissy's house, hundreds of miles later. Most days it seems as if everything in Odette’s life is far from fair. Is there a way for her to make things right? With warmth and sensitivity, Elana K. Arnold makes the difficult topics of terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers.
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While this has many sad things in it, the book is overall a hopeful one, and Odette's reactions to her family's decisions will seem familiar and realistic to middle grade readers. Grandma Sissy especially understands the feeling of helplessness that is bothering Odette, and gives her good advice about many things. Readers should know that the grandmother, who is suffering from terminal cancer, does decide to take medicine to end her life, but this is handled in a sympathetic and nonjudgmental way.
Like Applegate's Crenshaw, Far From Fair addresses economic instability in a fashion that will make middle grade readers see how a family could fall on hard times, and will hopefully make them more empathetic no matter what their own family situation is. The same is true of the treatment of Rex's behaviors. What makes this book work is that all of the situations are framed by how they affect Odette, and these situations do not stop her from having the same concerns, angers and every day experiences that all middle graders have. One particularly telling scene has her upset because her mother has dropped the family phone into the water; she doesn't think she has any right to be upset because of her grandmother's situation, but her mother acknowledges that it's still okay to be upset about small things.
From the yard sale that starts the book, to the camping out across the Pacific coast, to the eventual stop on Orcas Island with all of its difficulties, Far From Fair is a page turning look at how one girl deals with a variety of challenges in her life and manages to find a way to meet them with good humor and hope.
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