This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by PamG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book, YA Romance category.
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.
Here is PamG's review:
I am not a big fan of YA. Oh, the books are fine, but as a genre label, YA is meaningless. Meant as a marketing ploy, I think this faux genre is just an excuse for lit snobs to be dismissive of some of the truly magnificent literature for young people. Unfortunately, The Distance from A to Z would not provide a great argument against the genre label. It’s totally YA.
Abby is the storyteller of Distance. She’s going into senior year in her Chicago high school and is spending her summer at a college in New Hampshire where she’ll be taking an intensive eight week course in intermediate French. Abby adores the French language as passionately as she hates all things baseball. Her family are baseball maniacs (Cubs fans), but she has long since eschewed the masochism for the joys of French. Needless to say, she meets the requisite cute guy on day one and is revolted by his baseball shirt and cap. The rest of him, on the other hand, is pretty damned pretty, from the golden curls peeking out from under the hat to the hot athletic bod beneath. Nice to know sports are good for something.
Zeke (get it, get it?) is also taking the intermediate French course, much to Abby’s surprise. What’s more, he’s better at it than she is. As the only two high school students in the course, the two of them are forced to work as partners and frequently find themselves in proximity almost as close as a mountain cabin in winter. Abby pre-judges Zeke based on his athletic wear and he doesn’t hesitate to call her on it. Their subsequent exchanges are pretty entertaining.
Aside from Abby and Zeke, the most developed character is Alice, Abby’s roommate. Alice is a talented and superbly disciplined poet, who is taking an intensive poetry seminar. She entrances Abby from their first encounter.
She’s using a fountain pen.
I think I’m in love.
“Sec,” she whispers, more to herself than me.
I’ve found my spirit animal.
I know this moment for her like it’s mine. I know the feeling of being so deeply invested in something that the idea of forcing yourself out feels like a tooth extraction. Like the tight grip of a book you don’t want to put down.
Alice suffers from a fairly severe anxiety disorder. Abby adores her on sight, but still needs to be schooled in how to respond to Alice’s anxiety issues. Actually I kind of adored her on sight myself. Within her comfort zone, she totally kicks ass. More on this later.
I had problems with both Abby and Zeke. That’s probably why Alice seemed so refreshing. She was more mature than any of the other characters. Perhaps part of my problem with A & Z is that they do act like total teenagers. Abby narrates so we get her point of view much more than Zeke’s. Done well, I like first person POV and I think it can convey quite a lot about other characters. Unfortunately, the inside of teen’s head may be a little too self-absorbed to convey those telling details about the people surrounding her. Of course Abby’s single minded focus makes her interesting but also annoying. Loving French language and culture is appealing, but her loathing for baseball gets old. Once she loved it, but too many people have let her down over baseball. So–boom!–she hates it, my preshussss. She develops a bit of self awareness later in the book, but maturation should be a process, not a revelation in the last couple of chapters. At one point someone calls her mean, and she’s all “Who? Me?” And she isn’t mean. What she is is thoughtless. See “self-absorbed” above.
Abby is attracted to Zeke, but as they work together she begins to separate his personality into two distinct Zekes. There is French speaking Zeke who is quite delightful and whom she really begins to care for, and English speaking Zeke who’s kind of a major toque de derrière. Much of Abby’s narrative consists of her internal dithering about which is the real Zeke and do they have any sort of chance as a couple. This waffling got extremely tedious. Of course, Zeke has a Big Secret which later explains his dual personality, though in less detail than is warranted by his hot and cold running behavior. Trouble is, his big secret is so blatantly obvious to the reader that the big reveal makes your eyes roll like a ground ball on a T-ball field. So what is Zeke’s peculiar behavior?
He has some physical issues that he won’t talk about. He’s addicted to his phone and keeps his conversations extremely private. He makes mysterious trips into Boston on a regular basis. He slowly unveils the reasons for some of these things, so when it’s finally revealed, you just want to go “Oh, puleeze.”
However, none of this explains why Zeke is so frequently spotted with girls hanging off of him. Abby tends to be mildly shut shamey in her response to college girls Stephie and Chloe, rather than putting the blame where it belongs, squarely on Zekey. One of my favorite scenes, featuring Alice, takes place when both girls are in their dorm room and Stephie is using her feminine wiles on Zeke in the hall right outside their door.
“Oh yes,” she whispers, her voice all breathy. Though unfortunately for me and Alice, the fact that she’s directly in front of our door means that even if she was in our room we couldn’t possibly hear them more clearly.
“Please kill me, ” I mouth to Alice, conscious that if we can hear them from in here, they can hear us from out there.
“Your Zeke?” she mouths.
I think of shaking my head because there’s no my Zeke, but that seems like splitting hairs.
Alice presses her lips together and then opens them wide. “Abby!” she shouts. “I’m not going to hang out in the common room and wait for you guys to finish making out. I want to go to sleep, and I’d rather be able to do it without listening to you guys suck face all night.”
Her speech is so shocking, from the lie to the fact that it’s Alice bellowing it out, that I don’t even think to stop her until she’s looking at me triumphantly.
“And I can’t believe you guys are watching that movie together . I mean, get a room. Not my room. A room where you can be alone.”
“Alice!” I squeak, not knowing whether to high-five her or slap my hand over her mouth.
“Rawr”, I hear Cloy Voice say, which makes me want to go out there and pull her off of Zeke. Because what kind of girl says rawr in real life?”
“C’mon, we should get out of here,” Zeke says, and he doesn’t sound nearly as flirty and happy as he did before.
And suddenly I’m quite sure that as utterly humiliating as Alice’s speech was, high-fiving her wasn’t nearly enough to thank her.
So I tackle-hug her instead.
I got a kick out of this scene and there were others I really enjoyed.
However, one in particular I absolutely hated. In one of her off-again phases with Zeke, Abby decides to go out with some of the other kids in the program, most of whom are college age. Since she’s feeling defiant, she accepts drinks from a seemingly bottomless flask that gets passed around. Unsurprisingly, she gets falling down drunk and Zeke finds her with some clown’s hand on her thigh and rescues her. My problem with the scene is that it’s completely gratuitous, adds nothing to the story except to give Zeke an opportunity to “rescue” Abby. This scene and A’s inability to figure out Z’s Big Secret pushed her into TSTL territory a couple of times. Then when she did discover Zeke’s secret, she reacts explosively–as one does–and accuses him of lying to her. Didn’t happen. True, he didn’t tell her. For reasons. But he didn’t lie. Yes, there’s that whole omission thing, but I felt she accused him of lying to ramp up the drama and justify her extreme reaction. Earlier in the story, she was devastated because Zeke called their first kiss a “mistake” when in point of fact, she interpreted what he said as mistake. As written, he didn’t actually say that. Be pissed, but be pissed about what happens.
Needless to say, our young lovers achieve their HEA which, considering that they are high school students, one based in Chicago and one in San Diego, is more of an HFN, Unfortunately, by the end of the book, I didn’t have the energy to really care any more. Hence, the C grade. Might have been C+ if I were sixteen. (I didn’t like baseball either.)
The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt received a D in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.