How Far We Go and How Fast
by Nora Decter
Sixteen-year-old Jolene, named after the girl in the Dolly Parton song, is from a long line of lowlifes, but at least they’re musical lowlifes. Her mother is a tanning-salon manager who believes she can channel her karaoke habit into a professional singing career. Jolene’s dad, a failed bass player, has gone back to the family demolition business and lives by the company motto: “We do not build things; we only tear them down.” But Jolene and her big brother, Matt, are true musicians, writing songs together that make everything Jo hates about their lives matter less.
When Matt up and leaves in the middle of the night, Jo loses her only friend, her support system and the one person who made her feel cool. As it becomes clear that Matt is never coming back, Jo must use music to navigate her loss.
My thoughts on this book:
When I first started reading this book I was hooked. As I continued to read, the story became somewhat mundane, but I had to discover what was going to happen with Jolene and her family.
He strummed, gently at first and then harder, and as the rhythm unfurled into a song, I sang along. I usually only ever sang when we were walking, when we were goofing around, and that was more like hollering anyway. I didn’t know how it sounded now or if he wanted me to shut up, but when the song concluded Matt looked up and said, “That sounded good. Let’s do it again.”
The book is told from Jolene’s POV. Jolene isn’t a very confident person and feels quite worthless. She’s really only comfortable when she’s with her older brother Matt. It’s during these times that she can relax, be herself, and play music. Out of the blue, Matt leaves and Jolene is left in a world of depression. It’s like Jolene has been beat down and has to find a way to build herself up again. She needs to live again and has no idea how. Her people skills are lacking and she doesn’t have a lot of support.
When Matt left, parts of me stopped working. My mouth doesn’t move when I try to talk. Or it opens and nothing comes out. At night when I lie down to sleep, I can’t close my eyes, even when I try. My feet won’t listen to reason. Some days they insist on carrying me to a strange part of town, like they have an appointment to keep that I’m not privy to.
Her dad doesn’t want to talk about Matt and her mom is simply too busy singing karaoke and bringing people home from the bar. Everyone seems to be living their lives–even with Matt gone–when all Jolene can think about is getting her brother back or leaving Winnipeg for good. She talks to her dog named Howl and seems to gain some comfort there. She continues to play guitar to cope as it’s the only thing connecting her to her brother as she attempts to find a way to move forward with her life.
I play my song again, trying to get it perfect this time. I think it counts as a song, but I don’t know how to tell when you’re making more than noise, when you’ve given the sound enough shape to call it something else. I played it over and over last night so I wouldn’t forget it. I played till it infiltrated my bones and my pulse fell in step alongside it, until I could hear it even when I stopped playing, so that any dreams I might have had were drowned out. Music is the noise I make out loud. The rest I keep inside myself.
The premise of this story is interesting, but the majority of the book is Jolene dealing with depression and coping with her brother’s absence. On top of that, she deals with her dysfunctional family. The book deals with loss and other themes including: coming of age, tragedy, facing fears, and family. I’m not going to say I didn’t feel emotion when reading it, because I did, but there surely isn’t a whole lot happening for much of the book. It’s quite dismal, but around half way through the book picks up and you start figuring out things that were previously hidden and eventually everything comes together.
As far as characters, I thought some were well developed, but a few others weren’t. Jolene’s dad, for instance, doesn’t have much of a background at all and some of the secondary characters were just there. I was able to really connect with Jolene having an older brother within the same age gap, but some of the things she does in the book just seemed a tad strange. I understand that she’s dealing with depression and feeling abandoned, but in the beginning of the book she comes off as thinking quite negatively and simply accepting her mother’s drinking habits and wild lifestyle, but then as the story moves on in the second half, Jolene is the one out partying, using drugs, and drinking so that she can open up and become more social. Jolene is highly neglected for being sixteen years old. For these reasons, this may be a book better for older teens due to the drug use and drinking, etc. Of course this is my personal opinion.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. Outside of finding parts of it dull, I thought it was written well and I’ll look for more books by this author in the future.
I’d like to thank Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for sharing this book with me in exchange for my honest review.
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers (September 25, 2018)
This book is my November choice for The Ultimate Reading Challenge. It’s also #13 for my Netgalley Challenge. If you’d like to see those you can follow at this link HERE.
Thanks for reading my review! As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.