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


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.


Everyone is saying this has the distinct voice of To Kill a Mockingbird and it really is very similar. The story is not really like Mockingbird but the narrative perspective is told in the same way by Evelyn Bucknow. The book covers eight years of Evelyn's adolescence--from 10 years onto her graduation from high school. Her mother is constantly trying to make ends meet financially, and she loves Evelyn deeply. There is a great schism in the family because Tina, Evelyn's mother, had her out of wedlock. Tina's parents are extreme fundamentalists that will not let her forget her past. When Tina becomes pregnant again with a married man's baby, the problems start all over again, and Evelyn's grandmother, Eileen, is the only family that will talk to them.Evelyn's brother, Samuel, is born prematurely and it is soon obvious that he is mentally handicapped. Tina's role in the book changes to constant caretaker of Samuel, and Evelyn moves into her teenage years nearly alone. Her grandmother begins taking her to church, and Evelyn finds some answers there... yet she struggles with questions when one of her favorite teachers in school, Ms. Jenkins, becomes the target of a smear campaign by the fundamentalists for teaching evolution to the children. Evelyn's struggle to decide whether to side with her grandmother and the "nice people at the church" or her teacher shows exactly how Evelyn is certainly in the center of everything.The Center of Everything brings together many situations that Evelyn must confront--and she is a strong girl who has a very wise voice for someone so young.


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.


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.


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.


Poor and smart can often be a very hard combo to live with and Evelyn Bucknow is very much both. Moriarty tells the story of Evelyn's junior and high school years in Evelyn's voice. The writing is excellent and I disagree with those who thinks Evelyn sounds too old. I think she is spot on. I felt that Evelyn and the other characters just spilled off the pages, one more real than the next. I started the book in my car on the way to meetings, but could not wait until I drove home the next day to finish. I ended up curled it in my hotel room with the actual book, finishing it. It was worth 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.


I grew up in Kansas and much of what I remember are school bus rides and blazing hot days and the boredom and the overwhelming need to "belong" and the lack of control over basic life details. Whelp, that's kind of this book in a nutshell. Depressing and disconcertingly realistic, but in a good way?P.S. The 80s! Ocean Pacific and friendship pins! I would never have thought of these again if it weren't for this book. Favorite QuotesWhen she kisses me sometimes she says, “Smack!”But she's got a bad nose. It's thin like Eileen's but longer, with a bump, like someone tried to pick her up by it before she was done drying. They have been holding hands at all times, as if one of them is really a helium balloon and will float away if the other lets go. I have already hurt him once this morning, and that's enough. If I do it again, we would all know that it was just my unhappiness talking, the scratching claw reaching out from my own sad little heart. I know that sometimes when you are really worried about something, it ends up not being nearly as bad as you think it will be, and you get to be relieved that you were just being silly, worrying so much over nothing. But sometimes it is just the opposite. It can happen that whatever you are worried about will be even worse than you could have possibly imagined, and you find out that you were right to be worried, and even that, maybe, you weren't worried enough. From a Kansas City Star review of the bookNovelist Laura Moriarty knows that even if you're living in what others call 'the middle of nowhere,' you're still in the thick of things: your own life.


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


I really enjoyed this. The first-person narration reflects the age of the narrator, Evelyn. At the beginning of the book she's 12, and 17 by the end. The sentences and thought patterns become longer and more nuanced as she grows older, reflecting Evelyn's growing maturity. I thought Moriarty did a fine job of getting inside the head of someone at these various points along the way; struggling with beliefs and values and belonging (and longing). It rang true for me even though I didn't always share Evelyn's interpretations of or responses to the events of her life. Evelyn goes from being embarrassed by her mom to irritated with her to (somewhat) sympathetic - all sort of normal phases a girl might go through. Moriarty helps us experience Evelyn's growth in that regard, as well as in so many others.There's a lot to chew on here. Moriarty gives us some universal themes to reflect on, without being preachy.


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.


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!


The main character is 12 when her narration begins, and 17 or 18 when it ends. While reading this book I sometimes had to put it down and reflect on the parallels between the main character and my own life, a "smart" girl growing up with a single mother in a relatively low-income apartment complex. I think the story is realistically written and sensitive, and timely, especially if you grew spent your teenagehood in the 1980s.


(Dog Eared Books)this book, about growing up poor and smart in the midwest, so truly echoed my own experiences there that i couldn't help but love it. the plot is full of the surprising blows and crushing inevitabilities of real life, but there is humor and joy as well."Eileen says if you want something very much you can pray for it, and that gets God on your side, which helps a lot.So I do. Please, God, let me be the one to go to Topeka. Please. I imagine God sitting in front of a computer with blinking lights, putting on headphones when my voice comes in like a radio frequency from far away. He turns dials, adjusts the headphones, watching words flash on a screen: Bucknow, Evelyn. Kerrville, Kansas, U.S. Fourth Grade. Science Fair.""I like living in Kansas, not just because of the wheat, but because it's right in the center. If you look at a map of the world, the United States is usually right in the middle, and Kansas 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.""I think of Russia, cold and gray, people wearing dark coats and never smiling, standing in long lines. I understand that they want to kill all of us, or at least make us wear dark coats and hats and stand in lines 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.

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