(Note: This review contains spoilers.)
Odette’s parents have just turned her life upside down, and there’s not a thing Odette can do about it. After her father left his job so that some of his co-workers could keep theirs, her parents decided to sell their house, buy an RV, and take the family on an “adventure.” It means that Odette has to sell most of her stuff, give up her personal cell phone, and leave her friends behind. It means being crammed into a tight space with her family, including two parents with a strained marriage and a little brother with emotional and mental issues. Even when her father surprises her with a dog — a mutt instead of the black Lab Odette has always wanted — she doesn’t feel comforted.
But the road trip will teach Odette some things she needs to learn — and some things she never even imagined she would learn.
“Far from Fair” starts out as a somewhat typical middle-school novel, though more well-written than many. And Odette is at first a pricklier heroine than we usually find in such books, though that’s explained by the fact that she’s going through a crisis when we meet her. Though her father’s action was kind and noble, it affected the family in major ways, some of them inescapably negative.
While coming to terms with the changes, Odette has a bad attitude through much of the book, one that her parents put up with patiently until she starts to accept that life can’t always be fair. (Eventually, they decide to let Odette and her brother start having a say in some of the family decisions when possible.) Her little brother, Rex, has “furies” that the rest of the family often gets worn out dealing with. And their parents sometimes have serious fights; there are references to a separation in the past, and while the family visits Odette’s Grandma Sissy, her father goes back to the RV to sleep alone. At other moments, it seems as if they may be able to work things out, though her father can’t say more than “we hope not” when Odette asks if they might divorce.
The most serious issue crops up more than halfway through the book, when Odette’s parents tell the children that their beloved Grandma Sissy, seriously ill from cancer, has decided to take advantage of living in a “right-to-die” state and to kill herself before the pain gets too bad. Odette struggles with this, unsure for a long time how she feels about it, though the adults in her life keep urging her to accept it as her grandmother’s decision and to support her. Ultimately Odette’s mother prepares the pills for Grandma Sissy to take, and the family is with her when she dies. This is a lot for middle-school readers to handle, and the way the book promotes the idea of assisted suicide (even though Odette is never really happy with it) may be a dealbreaker for some parents.
Other content issues include a discussion of bras and female physical development, and occasional profanity. Odette develops a crush on a boy staying near Grandma Sissy’s house, and hopes to kiss him, though in the end they only hug. She feels bad for daydreaming about a boy while her grandmother is dying, but Grandma Sissy herself explains to her that in life, good things tend to be mixed up with bad, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a wise lesson, but it may not be enough to counteract some of the other lessons the book is teaching.
Image copyright HMH Books for Young Readers.Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.