Review

The Center of Everything

by Laura Moriarty



The title of Laura Moriarty's impressive debut novel THE CENTER OF
EVERYTHING refers to the story's Kansas setting: "If you look at a
map of the world, the United States is usually right in the middle,
and Kansas is in the middle of that. So right here where we are,
maybe this very stretch of highway we are driving on, is the exact
center of the whole world, what everything else spirals out from."
The title, however, could just as easily apply to its young
narrator, Evelyn. So often, Evelyn is the calm heart at the center
of the crazy events swirling around her, quietly observing and
commenting on everything that happens but rarely sucked into these
everyday dramas.

Evelyn is 10 at the novel's opening. Gifted at school but still
quite naive about the world, Evelyn often records innocent
observations that are unintentionally funny. Down-to-earth Evelyn
is particularly bewildered by her scatterbrained and childlike
mother, Tina. Estranged from her father and unable to hold down a
job, Tina often seems less grown up than her serious-minded
daughter. When Tina's failed affair with her married boss results
in a pregnancy, Tina balances on the verge of depression,
particularly when the baby turns out to be severely retarded.
Against the backdrop of Tina's crises, Evelyn is quietly struggling
with her own day-to-day trials, from competing in the state science
fair to envying the other girls' Ocean Pacific sweatshirts and
designer jeans when Tina can't even provide Evelyn with shoes that
fit.

Throughout the novel, Evelyn secretly adores Travis, the
bad-boy-next-door at her run-down apartment complex. But when
Travis falls hard for Evelyn's beautiful best friend, Deena, Evelyn
must repress her desires even as she watches Travis and Deena head
toward a very different fate from the one that awaits her. As
Evelyn matures, she struggles to define herself apart from her
family and her secret crush. Lacking guidance from her mother and
encouraged by her grandmother, Evelyn becomes active in a local
evangelical Christian church.

As she grows older, though, her increasing interest in science ---
particularly biology --- clashes with her religious beliefs when a
conflict over teaching evolution threatens to tear her small town
apart. Mentored by two idealistic, outsider teachers, Evelyn
quietly excels at school and, as she graduates from high school at
the novel's end, begins to envision a life outside her small Kansas
town.

Not coincidentally, the eight years that THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING
spans are also the eight years of the Reagan administration. The
novel brilliantly brings the 1980s to life, not only through
carefully placed pop culture references but also through subtle
commentaries on the era's politics. When Tina is forced to go on
welfare, young Evelyn is mortified by the thought of her mother
joining the rank of "welfare queens." When two older teens offer
her marijuana, Nancy Reagan's advice to "Just Say No" resounds in
Evelyn's mind. Many of the key economic, political, and social
dilemmas of the Reagan era are dramatized here in clever but
thought-provoking ways.

THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING is a coming-of-age novel, family drama,
and political commentary rolled into one. It would be a perfect
book club choice, particularly for a mother-daughter book club, and
with its carefully drawn adolescent narrator, it will appeal to
teens as well as to their parents.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 21, 2011

The Center of Everything
by Laura Moriarty

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401300316
  • ISBN-13: 9781401300319