Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice. The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick. The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery. After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.
Far from YouFeatured
I’ve mentioned this before but props to Dahlia (The Daily Dahlia) for first putting this book on my radar. Since I’m not big on the mystery genre, I’d initially not been interested, but then she pitched it to me with LGBT and suddenly I NEEDED IT IN MY LIFE. Dahlia knows how to get my attention. Anyway, I’m so glad that she (and whoever put this in Sadie Hawkins – I’m so sorry I accidentally deleted your name) recommended this one, because Sharpe covered so many dark subjects in ways that I love.
Tess Sharpe’s Far From You opens with a great hook and doesn’t let go. In the first chapter, Sophie describes the two times in her life that she almost died. The first, when she was fourteen, was a car accident. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt and Trev, her best friend Mina’s brother, ran a stop sign. The accident has left her crippled for life. With therapy, she can walk without a cane, but she has a limp and will always have pain from her bad leg and back. She also has scarring by her breasts and on her leg. This accident marked her physically and made her athleticism something of the past.
Not only that, but this first accident also lead her down the road to life as an addict. She was prescribed Oxycontin to help manage her pain. As events in her life stressed her out, she began using the pills more than recommended to make the pain fuzz out and disappear. Though I’ve read some books on drug use before, Far From You is unique in it being an addiction to a prescription. I feel like that’s not tackled as much as addictions to recreational drugs, and I think Sharpe handles it really well.
The second time Sophie almost died, her best friend Mina did die. Mina and Sophie drove out to a dark and creepy hill (a spot for hookups and drug deals), so that Mina could meet with a contact on a story she was writing for the local newspaper. Instead of information, they met a person with a gun. Sophie’s knocked unconscious, unable to do anything because of her bad leg. When she awakens, the murderer is gone. Where the first accident marked Sophie forever physically, this one destroyed her mentally.
The murderer also planted Oxy pills on Sophie who had been clean for several months after being sent to detox with her bounty hunter Aunt, so her mom, not believing this story, sent Sophie to rehab. When finally released, at the beginning of the book, Sophie’s determined to search for Mina’s killer and get revenge. The murder plot definitely entertained me, but is also the weakest aspect. The ending was surprising, but I also don’t know that the best trail was laid for the reader to be able to piece it all together. Plus, the whodunit seemed a bit far-fetched to me personally.
Setting aside the mystery, because, while it entertained me, it’s not what really mattered for me, I want to talk about the narrative style. Sharpe alternates between the past and the present. If you’re not cool with time jumps, this will not be the book for you. Basically, Sharpe is slowly unraveling the tangled web of romance and guilt woven between the characters. This technique can backfire pretty easily, but Sharp uses it pretty effectively. Tracking the overall story wasn’t too hard and the intermingled snippets of the past did manage to up the pain level by their late reveals at several points.
One of the things I loved is Sharpe’s portrayal of the way that people react to Sophie when she gets back from rehab. Everyone, the detective included, blames Sophie for Mina’s death, certain that they went out there so that Sophie could score some Oxy. Sharpe has a great commentary on victim-blaming, and how unhealthy it is:
“You went through something horrible,” Rachel says quietly. “And it isn’t fair that everyone blames you. Even if you had been buying drugs that night, it wouldn’t matter. The only person who’s guilty is the guy who pulled the trigger.”
I just love that. It fits really nicely with the discussions on victim-blaming with regards to rape. Our culture automatically wants to blame people for putting themselves in dangerous circumstances, and it’s a really important dialog to have. I love that Sharpe put victim-blaming in another context, and specifically commented on how it didn’t matter whether Sophie was relapsing into addiction.
Then there’s Sophie’s personal journey. The mystery seems like the catalyst for change, but really most of her progress comes from finally opening up, first to her therapist and then to those around her. This thrills me. There was no magic cure and it took time for her to heal. Also, I don’t want to get into the romance too much to avoid spoilers, but I love the way that bisexuality is handled, and how mature Sophie is about her choices.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The mystery itself is the weakest element, but there's so much left to love that this wasn't a huge problem for me.
The Final Verdict:
The real selling point of Far From You is its honesty and openness in dealing with the dark stuff and ethical dilemmas. Sharpe doesn’t judge, but presents things in a really thoughtful and healthy way. Readers looking for LGBT themes will definitely want to pick this up, though mystery fans may be less than thrilled with some aspects of the actual mystery.
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. I don't read a great deal of mystery but, when I do, I tend to find them fairly predictable. Far From You, however, kept me guessing for quite some time. The mystery was solid and the plotting was well done, with tidbits of information keeping the story moving. Sophie was a great narrator who was aware of her own limitations, but did not whine about them. I was happy that this choice allowed me to see Sophie's struggle with her addiction in a very realistic way. She avoids certain triggers and fights through cravings with breathing and mantras. I have never read anything else that so thoroughly understood the constant struggle of addiction.
Where this novel really shines is in the story of love and friendship between Sophie and Mina. It is not your conventional love story and was actually not something I was expecting. Despite being the character who as died, Mina is not portrayed as a flawless saint as we so often do of our dead. She is shown to be a girl who had some serious trust issues, who was childish and tempestuous and who may have put herself into a very dangerous situation. Yet, as a reader, I truly liked her sense of fun and her unwavering loyalty to Sophie in her time of need.
The story plays out by jumping through time to points in and around several key events: the car accident and recovery, the development of Sophie's drug addiction, Sophie getting clean, The lead up and day of the murder, and the present day. I had thought, upon starting, that this would quickly get confusing but each shift is marked by how long ago it was and what age Sophie was. This allowed me to follow very easily and, if a reader were so inclined, you could even make a timeline of the events. This approach actually worked very well to allow the secondary story to be fleshed out as well as to create a sense of suspense in the primary storyline.
This novel does have some adult themes and a considerable amount of swearing. While it certainly didn't take away from the story, I would be careful about recommending this to readers who are a little too young.
Tess Sharpe has created a fan in me. I am signing on for whatever else she has in the works.