Novels in which a “mature” teen girl falls for a much older guy are nothing new. The standard way of resolving the ill-fated love is that the guy ends up leaving town or dying, thereby disappearing from the girl’s life. The abandonment causes the heroine to pick up the pieces and become a more fully formed human being. While Hadley Dyer’s latest, Here So Far Away, refreshingly underplays that shopworn premise, the relationship at the heart of this YA novel presents a more of-the-moment issue for the reader.
Like so many small-town girls, 17-year-old Frances “George” Warren just wants to get through her last year of high school so she can go to a city university, hopefully with her cadre of friends in tow. George is the group’s resident tough: she’s unsentimental (though not uncaring), pretty but not girly, and has earned the nickname “the enforcer” for her ability to take down a potential foe with a quick retort. She falls in line with the current trend of sarcastic teen girl narrators, but Dyer gives us enough of George’s inner thoughts to undercut the outwardly biting tone: we know this girl has a soft side and that she experiences the same self-doubt and uncertainties as the rest of her less-mouthy friends.
Having unceremoniously dispensed with her virginity the previous year, George is relatively sanguine about sex; her limited experience (three guys over a brief period) informs her opinion that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, so why bother? But when she meets an older stranger at the lighthouse where she works part-time, everything George thought she knew about love and passion changes. She doesn’t even know his name, but she kisses him – surprising them both. When they meet again at a bar, George tells the guy – 29-year-old Francis “Mick” McAdams (yes, Frances and Francis, a cute detail Dyer thankfully uses sparingly) – that she’s 20. He believes her, and they’re off and running.
It doesn’t take long for things to go awry. Francis discovers that not only is George 17, she’s also the daughter of the RCMP officer he’s replacing on the local force. Understandably, Francis has a hard time getting over the fact that the girl he’s fallen for is underage. But the pull is too strong, and he fully admits part of the attraction is George’s innocence. “The thing is, the sick, sick thing that ties me up every time I see you, is that’s possibly what I like best about you. I don’t mean just because you’re young, I’m not – I’m not a perv…. But the world hasn’t messed you up yet…. You’re still becoming who you are.”
Even though the novel is set in 1992 – a time before #MeToo, #TimesUp, and a cultural shift away from accepting these types of relationships between men in positions of power and young women (or girls) – it’s still hard for a reader to see George and Francis’s romance as anything but wrong. That George initiates it feels very much like an attempt to make it okay, but it’s still not. The characters both know it, too. George doesn’t tell anyone about Francis, and Francis tries to break it off with George more than once. While we aren’t provided with much insight into Francis’s soul-searching, Dyer makes it clear that he’s suffering and struggling.
Dyer’s writing is strong, her characters vibrant and real. The dialogue flies and she peppers the narrative with enough pop-culture touchstones to evoke the era without overwhelming a readership too young to understand them all. Two years ago – maybe even one year ago – Here So Far Away would have elicited a much different, more positive, reaction. But in the current climate, George and Francis’s age gap and power imbalance is too uncomfortable to ignore.