Great concept but uneven execution
In Williams' MILES FROM ORDINARY, thirteen-year-old Lacey just wants a normal day. Since her aunt left a year ago, Lacey has been forced to take care of her mentally ill mother by herself. In an attempt to gain some freedom and some income for both of them, Lacey gets her mother a job as a cashier while she plans to volunteer at the local library. Hoping against hope that she will have one ordinary day and maybe make a friend in the process, Lacey drops off her mother at the grocery store. When Lacey later discovers that her mother is missing, her world begins to quickly spiral out of control.
Despite the affecting subject matter, MILES FROM ORDINARY didn't grab me as I had hoped. The topic squarely put the novel in the young adult category, but the writing and the young voice seemed more appropriate for middle grades. Because of this, I'm unsure of whether the book will find the right fit with its intended audience. Pacing was slow throughout much of the novel, but the final 30 pages became fast-paced and downright terror-filled. Though engaging, this quick shift in tone and style didn't mesh with the rest of the book. Events became unexplainable during these final pages too, in a way that made the events unbelievable. When the story does wrap up, it does so too quickly and too easily. Further, while the book accurately portrays that mental illness can lead to horrible ends, it does so in a way that I fear may unfairly stigmatize mental illness as being a condition that frequently leads to hurting others.
On the positive side, I appreciated that Williams was willing to tackle an important issue like mental illness and how it affects children. Written in first-person, present tense, the novel movingly depicted the constant worries and stresses that Lacey endured as a child trying to take care of an unstable parent. Also, while the book was slow to start, the tension really ratcheted up at the end, and I found myself truly frightened and unsettled while reading the final pages.
Though mental illness remains a neglected and overlooked topic in literature and in society, I'm disappointed to report that I felt this book didn't add a great deal to its understanding. Even with these qualms, I plan to read Williams' THE CHOSEN ONE to see how she handles another explosive and frightening topic, that of forced polygamy.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.