The Center of Everything

ISBN: 0786888458
ISBN 13: 9780786888450
By: Laura Moriarty

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About this book

A dazzling debut in the tradition of Jane Hamilton and Mona Simpson.In Laura Moriarty's extraordinary first novel, a young girl tries to make sense of an unruly world spinning around her. Growing up with a single mother who is chronically out of work and dating a married man, 10-year old Evelyn Bucknow learns early how to fend for herself.Offering an affecting portrayal of a troubled mother/daughter relationship, one in which the daughter is very often expected to play the role of the adult, the novel also gives readers a searing rendering of the claustrophobia of small town midwestern life, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Evelyn must come to terms with the heartbreaking lesson of first love -- that not all loves are meant to be -- and determine who she is and who she wants to be. Stuck in the middle of Kansas, between best friends, and in the midst of her mother's love, Evelyn finds herself . . . in The Center of Everything.

Reader's Thoughts


Wonderful read! As one goodreads reviewer said, it's a book you find yourself reflecting on even when you aren't reading it. I often found myself thinking about Evelyn while at work, driving in the car, or cooking dinner. Because it is a coming-of-age story set in the 1980's I was able to relate to the political and pop culture references, making Evelyn even more dear to my heart. I was satisfied with the ending but was sad to say goodbye. Although I wouldn't classify this as "chick lit," I think the story would definitely appeal more to women.


I loved this book. Well written, told from a preteen to teen protagonist. Interesting coming of age story set in the '80s. If you must have high action and high drama, don't read this book, then pan it. But if you want a funny, well-pace literary novel, pick this one up.I loved how real the characters and story felt, even though fictional license is used. I highly recommend

Claude Nougat

Haven't finished this yet but it's a remarkable "slice of life" novel - very well written from the point of view of a 14 year old, facing an impossible world - narrow-minded on one side and so religious, liberal on the other and so sinful!A must read in my opinion. The only drawback (and the reason I gave it 4 stars) is that in the end it doesn't "gel": all the threads of the story don't really come together in a climax - which is the way a good story should always be. This stays a "slice of life" right to the end, with the protag never becoming the center of anything: she is an outsider, things happen to everybody around her (her mother, her boyfriend, her girlfriend) and nothing much happens to her...It's a pity because it's very well written, very good voice that changes and matures as the protag gets older (she's 10 at the opening of the novel and 17 at the end. I'm convinced Laura Moriarty is a writer to follow: one of these days, she will surely produce a story with a plot that is entirely satisfactory!


So grateful to my sister for recommending this one! Set in a small town in Kansas against the back drop of Reagan-era America, "The Center of Everything" is a coming of age novel about Evelyn Bucknow. Evelyn’s mom, Tina, is a young, unwed mother who is trying desperately to keep everything together on her own, despite society’s disapproval of her and the judgment she faces from her very religious family. Bright, sensual, and a bit progressive, Tina doesn’t fit in with the others around her, and Evelyn tries to set herself up to be different from her mother. Evelyn isn’t a beauty like Tina, yet she’s very smart and her teachers encourage her to pursue her education. The dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship is compelling to watch unfold over the course of the novel; sometimes they’re a team, sometimes Evelyn is the one acting like the grown-up, sometimes they can’t bear to be around each other, sometimes Tina is the one shedding light on important truths Evelyn needs to hear. As Evelyn moves from grade school to high school, she grapples to form her own identity and opinions about religion, science, politics, and people. Her first person narration allows us to see her understanding of the world maturing as she questions what others have told her, things she’s taken at face value. Moriarty delivers a beautiful, subtle theme throughout “The Center of Everything.” At first, young Evelyn thinks Kansas is literally in the center of the world, and we see how others have this egocentric attitude. But as she learns more about what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, she understands that everyone is important is their own way, and we need empathy to make the best judgments. A lovely, moving novel with complex characters and a strong protagonist! I can’t recommend this novel highly enough!


Moriarty has written some pretty dull stuff, but I'm pleased to say that this was not one of those novels. I rarely give five-star ratings, so you can appreciate how much I loved this book. It is basically a fairly typical coming-of-age novel, with an atypical protagonist. Evelyn is complex, intelligent, and immensely interesting. There's nothing much that is cliched about this intriguing girl, and yet she is incredibly relateable. I caught myself thinking "That's me! That's exactly how I felt! What I thought! What I'd have said!" over and over. Moriarty gives Evelyn the all-important skill of critical thinking, so that she is able to make more right choices than wrong ones. She needs all the help she can get: her grandmother is full of blind faith, her mother is unstable and, at times, a terrible role model, and her friend, Deena, is about as emotionally unbalanced as they come. Moriarty made me like just about every character she introduced, and I literally didn't put this book down once. I recommend this to pretty much anyone who is looking for an intelligent read; this will not disappoint.


At heart, this is a story of hope, of how no matter how bad things may appear, they can get better. It follows Evelyn Bucknow's life from fifth grade through high school. She's living in an apartment in Kansas with her single mother in the 1980s, Tina. An outcast from her own family, because she got pregnant as a teen, Tina struggles to make ends meet and winds up in an affair with her boss. Seen from a fifth-grader's perspective the relationship is puzzling and winds up tragically. Evelyn and her mother struggle financially and emotionally. Evelyn, however, has a knack for making the right choices in her life. She watches her mother and friends struggle and make mistakes and in the process sees what to avoid while learning to be understanding an forgiving.

Steph Hundt

This is Moriarty's debut novel and she is a skilled storyteller! Evelyn is a 10 year old girl in 1982 when this novel opens. She is a spunky and spirited narrator. She is being raised by her single mother Tina and though Tina may have some flaws, you root for her and her family from start to finish. This novel had me staying up late to read it and thinking about the characters as I soaped up my hair in the shower. I LOVED it and I look forward to reading more of Moriarty's books in the future! The references to 80's history and music were fun too!


Evelyn is the daughter of a single mom, growing up in a tiny Kansas town during the 80s. This quiet but well-written novel follows her from fourth grade to high school graduation, as she makes and loses friends, falls in love, wrestles with faith, and breaks out of the cycle of poverty and dysfunction that she's mired in. In lesser hands, this plot could have been either too soapy or too political, but Moriarty makes it feel natural and authentic. She really knows how to interpret disturbing events through young eyes. I liked Evelyn, and in the end, felt hopeful for her and the people she loves.


I'm rating this book much higher than the average review. I listened to this book on audio and absolutely loved the coming of age story of a young girl named Evelyn, living with her mother in a very poor, rural area of Kansas. The book shows the scary tenuousness of poverty. There is a scene in the book when Evelyn is walking back from Social Security with her mother that I know will remain with me for a long time.I also liked the development of Evelyn's mother Tina, she is neither a saint nor a sinner and I found it easy to emphasize with her. Finally the details about the 1980's, from a child's perspective, helped bring this story to life.I look forward to reading more from this author.


This book was about a girl’s life from ages 10-18. I can’t say it isn’t an interesting concept and the book itself was fairly interesting, however I wasn’t at all satisfied with it. Nothing ever really happens to the girl, just to people around her. A story isn’t very interesting when the main character never actually does anything or grows emotionally in any way.This was the first book I’ve ever read where I got to the final page and turned it, fully expecting at least one more chapter. It was a non-ending.I wish I could wrap my head around why this one is so popular, but to be frank, I just can’t get it.

Madeline Benoit

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was not only enjoyable but well written! I have to say, I often don't have a lot of faith in "modern young adult books", but it was clear to me that Moriarty wrote this book because of her personal experiences and what she knows. I have a theory that authors write best when they're writing about what they know. Perhaps Moriarty didn't grow up with all of the struggles exhibited by the main character, Evelyn, but you can tell she certainly had some significant coming of age experiences in rural Kansas.My biggest criticism of the novel is that Moriarty may have tackled one too many coming of age themes. While the novel was well-written overall, I think she may have conveyed the story even more skillfully if she had limited the main character Evelyn to only tackling two or three events rather than a a hefty handful.Overall, I thought this book really spoke from the author's heart, and I appreciated her story-telling style and voice. I feel that this is a very high-quality and modern coming of age/young adult novel which should be celebrated.


The book starts in 1982 when Evelyn is 10 and continues up to her senior year and preparing to graduate. Growing up during the same time, I was able to related to references of music, fashion, tv, politics... Evelyn was raised by her mom without much money. She has issues with fitting in at school, with the friends she has and when she gets her first job at McDonald's. I wish the story would have gone on a little longer or maybe if there was a second book about her years in college.


Wow -- I couldn't put this down. Which is a funny thing to say, because it wasn't a pageturner in the classic sense; not plot-driven or particularly suspenseful. I just found the heroine and her story very engaging. I also liked the way many of the characters managed to be both jerky and sympathetic -- complex, in other words, something that's missing from many books! Finally, I think it was sweetly nostalgic for me to read about a heroine growing up in the 80s, whose developmental clock pretty much mirrored mine. I appreciated the references to friendship pins, Keds, Ocean Pacific sweatshirts, etc. -- Moriarty really evoked that time period for me without it being overkill. I had a similar experience when I read "The Song Reader" by Lisa Tucker, which I also enjoyed, although I think this was a richer book. Anyway, I can't really name a flaw in this book -- it was enjoyable and interesting, well-written, characters you could see and feel, etc. Highly recommended.


This is a perfect example of a book that really doesn't go anywhere, nothing extraordinary really happens, but you'll follow along with enthusiasm because the author knows how to turn a phrase. It's also fascinating if you came from this midwestern lifestyle and knew people just like the characters portrayed in the book. The cast of characters drives the piece when the plot meanders. We have the free-spirited woman who never learns from her mistakes until she is trapped by them in Evelyn's mother, Tina. There is the estranged father who can't accept his daughter the way she is because she never grows up and lives up to his expectations. There is the do-gooder ingenue whose kindness is repeatedly taken advantage of (Evelyn, the main character). The boy who will never grow up either and keep on making the same mistakes. The girl who doesn't care about school or aspiring and thinks all her happiness can be found in boys. The mean class bully with the well-to-do, overachieving mother. The crazy next-door neighbor. The mysterious and retarded child with beautiful eyes. The benefactor who proves to be a malefactor...and of course that mean lady with the drawn-on eyebrows who works at the local McDonalds.See what I mean? The characters are what makes the whole story believable and there are a few scenes that break your heart if you've ever been through them yourself (ever had a boy choose your friend over you? If so, you're going to love this). The way Moriarty writes shows a lot of promise. I hate to be one to harp on about "needing more plot" because I have read other books with no plot that were completely engrossing...but when I look back at those books that supposedly had no plot that I was engrossed with...I usually discover that there WAS a plot in there. Something happened. The main character changed in some way and something of real significance happened. There is not much at the end of this, though. In the end, she goes to college. Yay, right? No. It's a yawn-worthy ending. I'll let all that slide, though. Look at this as a "slice of life" book and you won't be disappointed. I enjoyed the slice, but like everyone, I just wanted that LAST bite to be more fulfilling. I have a feeling the ending may stretch to a higher level beyond most thinking...and may ask you to deduct about political and religious leanings, which I'm hoping is not what the author is asking of us because the comparisons are not quite fair.This point must be noted for those wondering if they should pick this book up: It does delve into political and religious territory in a really sneaky backdoor way that is a recurrent, important theme throughout the novel. The author never comes out and says what side of the fence she's on, but you start feeling manipulated by it, particularly if you lean right or play centerfield. All the religious or right-leaning characters are stupid, naive, or evil (and believe me, ALL right-leaning characters are not just religious...they are religious to the extreme in this book). All the left-leaning characters are people she respects and admires or comes to admire by the end of the novel. Even her liberal mother who does stupid things her entire life ends up being someone we should sympathize with, respect and admire by the end. We are expected to believe Evelyn's right leanings throughout the novel are rebellious naivety. However, Eileen's character speaks truthful words about how two friends grow up beside each other and one is lost in the world and the other begins to thrive [Not her exact words, but I don't want to spoil other parts of the plot for those still yet to read the book]. It's political without being outright preachy and the author smartly never tells the reader who is right and who is wrong. She lets the story lie there...yet, as Evelyn is whisked off into the sunset to college, driven by a liberal teacher who tells her a whole new world awaits and she notes a student wearing an anti-government t-shirt, you kind of get the feeling where Evelyn is headed as she prepares to enter the oh-so-worldly college world. I hope this is not the message that the author seeks to leave us with ("Right wing and religious = BAD, left wing and liberal = GOOD") or I'd be disappointed. All I have to do is turn on a news channel to be spoonfed my beliefs. I kind of read to get away from that kind of B.S. manipulation.


The Center of Everything, by Laura Moriarty, is one of those rare books that readers devour, then are sorry when the last word appears. Moriarty, transplanted to Kansas as an adult after a lifetime of living in various places in the United States, illuminates the Kansas character and the Kansas landscape in a way few people have done before. She does so with loving, witty language, telling the story through the voice of a young, wise, yet naïve narrator. Evelyn, whose story this is, sees all and questions all, but often doesn’t quite understand what it “all” means. As the story progresses, however, her understanding matures and her world widens beyond the small Kansas town that is her home.As with all the characters, Evelyn’s mother, the beautiful, but beleaguered and poverty-stricken Tina, is developed as a person full of contradictions and surprises. Among the minor characters, Moriarty includes teachers as sometimes flawed but good people who do what good teachers do—help students realize their highest potential. Those of us who grew up in Kansas will see the landscape with new, more appreciative eyes. I have long loved driving through the rolling Flint Hills between Wichita and the Lawrence-Kansas City area. The hills change with the seasons, each season having its own unique beauty. Moriarty recreates these scenes in the book, scenes that may be surprising to those who think of Kansas as flat and boring. One person compared Evelyn to Huck Finn and the comparison is apt. Evelyn doesn’t take a raft downriver, but nevertheless, her life is an expedition of discovery as she grows from a grade school kid to a young woman on her way to college. Those of us who have lived through the recent history of this state will appreciate the wry humor inherent in the scenes depicting the debates over evolution, politics, and religion. Yet, Moriarty never violates the dignity of the characters involved in these debates.The only way to do justice to this book is to read it then share it.

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