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


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.


Evelyn navigates from the center: from Kansas, the center of every map of the US, from the center of the 80's, from the center of the conflict between her mother and her grandmother, from her religious fundamentalism and her love of science, from the strange triangle of her two best friends: Travis and Deena. Evelyn is an observer; long before she understands the subtleties of the world around her, she see them. In this way she reminds me so much of Scout in TKAM.Evelyn's journey through the 80's, complete with references to Reagan, Cuomo, OP sweatshirts, red Keds, and welfare queens, sees her beginning to comprehend her place in the world...child of an unwed mother, herself a child when she became a mother, welfare recepient, bright but poor; pretty, but not pretty enough. Through it all, it's teachers who show her the gifts she possesses, the gifts that will allow her to break the pattern of poverty and ignorance. While there is no doubt her mother loves her and does her best, Evelyn knows she needs an education and a dream. We see her succeed in her dream, and we see Travis and Deena going another direction.I'm eager for someone to read this so we can talk. The more I think about this, the more I love this book.


(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."

Linda Lipko

Have you ever read a book wherein words simply cannot suffice to describe your thoughts and feelings? This is one of those books.It is incredible, absorbing, emotionally ladened, spot on with perception, strong in character development, terrifically written, endearing, warm, sad, yet joyous and, at times, humorous.This is the debut of Laura Moriarty and I'll be sure to read her next books.Ten year old Evelyn Bucknow lives smack dab in the center of the United States in Kerrville, Kansas. Analogous to a tornado destructively spinning n the heartland of the Midwest, as she tells her story, immediately the reader is sucked into her tumultuous life.As events beyond her control seem to rapidly spin, kicking up unwanted debris and tragically whizzing on by, while at times smacking her face down in the ground, Evelyn's clear perception of her life is so wonderfully told that I wanted to read the book from cover - cover in one sitting.Packed with many themes, the author poignantly tells the story of a young girl wise beyond her age, forced to live with a mother whose selfish and unintelligent decisions spill into the lives of others, causing Evelyn to be the adult and parent.As Evelyn grows, she has clothes and shoes that don't fit and a mother who doesn't notice or care. Living in low income housing, Evelyn is consistently bullied by those richer than she. With little support, this feisty, spunky girl learns who to trust and how to fend for herself.When her mother's relationship with a married man results in a child who is challenged; when her mother's stubbornness results in the inability to hold a job, when the only person Evelyn trusts is stolen away by another friend, Evelyn finds inner strength and fortitude to push forward.Intelligent and bright, Evelyn has keen observations and insights about people, about life, about right wing religion that judges instead of helps and about what society can do to those whom them deem less fortunate.I loved this book! Highly recommended.


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.

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!


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.


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


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 was told to read this by a BFF and she was so right! You will love this coming-of-age book told through the eyes of Evelyn, growing up in smalltown Kansas with her single Mom, Tina. Evelyn is bright, real, and the way she interacts with the variety of people who touch her life make this novel one you will have a hard time putting down. I love how interested she is in school- the way she describes her classes, teachers, and the learning material was a refresher course for me. I relearned and remembered so much subject matter because of the fascination Evelyn has with the world around her. She is a girl who will not fall into the trappings of being poor, the temptation and ease to skip school, teen pregnancy, etc.....I found myself cheering for this girl, even when she makes some not-so-smart decisions. But she learns from them.I also loved the writing of Laura Moriarty; for example, "...the ball of muscle in his arm sliding down like the bulge of a mouse inside a boa constrictor." If this is not a thoughtful, creative, vivid, descriptive sentence I will eat my very large sunhat.This was the first book I have read by Laura Moriarty and it will not be the last.

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!


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.


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.


The Center of Everything is one of those rare coming of age novels full of emotional pathos and personal growth that somehow touches a deep nerve within, especially if you were about the same age in the Reagan era 80's as protagonist Evelyn Bucknow. It is a novel about a smart girl living in a small Kansas town with her overwhelmingly depressed, trampy "welfare queen" mother searching for a better path in life than the path her mother chose. Told from Evelyn's perspective between the ages of 10 through 18, the first half of the novel focuses on her increasingly strained relationship with her somewhat unattentive mother. When Evelyn reaches the breaking point with her mother and "a black line" is drawn between them, the novel then focuses on Evelyn's fractured friendships, painfully unrequited love and her desire to improve the quality of her life. Moriarty's prose is thoughtful and breezy with a touch of child-like innocence. The characters are achingly real keeping you riveted to the page not from suspense but from a desire to get to know them better. You'll find your emotions run high as you love/hate many of the characters, especially Evelyn's mother. Touching and poignant, sad but never sappy The Center of Everything is a believable account of a girl's search for herself and her place in the world


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.

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