Novel: Miles Away from You by A.B. Rutledge | Goodreads
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.
He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.
Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.
Miles Away from You is a distinct read that plays on images that keenly convey modern issues popping up more often in young adult fiction nowadays. The feelings seem universal, while nestled in a narrative that’s provocative. Miles, a queer guy grieving over his comatose girlfriend, deals with a staggering amount, retreating behind a mask of deflection. He’s a deep thinker but also logical. Refreshing, with edges of grit.
I’ve read a ton of LGBT+ fiction that handle relationships thoughtfully, in ways that always open my eyes a little more to what LGBT+ folks experience. (I’m entirely straight, so I wouldn’t know.) Still, I’d never read a book before this one that attempted to articulate the definition of some of the gray areas — queer, demisexual, etc,. — and illuminated their complexities.
I will say, on this note, that I’ve recently gone back and read some reviews and comments about this book that point out some various problems with the way it portrays some of these identities. I hope that anyone who reads it goes in with the ability to look for those and verbalize them if they discover them. I did enjoy the book, but not for the way it handles delicate portrayals in an industry that could be doing a significantly better job of that. Some issues brought up in relation to this book include: “fridging,” bad demisexual rep, and Vivian not really being fleshed out. Go do your research! Also, I’m happy to discuss with anyone and learn more about these portrayals in publishing.
The plot seems larger-than-life at first, but the stripped language and plainspoken protagonist allow it to feel ubiquitous. Miles deals with a lot that anybody would, as well as a lot that nobody should have to endure.
Miles’s exhaustion was the most compelling aspect. Disentangling himself from Vivian — knowing that his role was over, that he needed to move on — captured some of the maturity that elevated him above similar storylines. Additionally, his internal conflict contrasted nicely with the public and moral (faux-moral) pressures he faced to always be Vivian’s hero. I loved the spectrum of emotion that Miles Away from You displayed. That it was possible to grieve over someone and to not stop loving them, but also to move on and become independent again. The synopsis describes his relationship with dazzling, and it definitely fits. Dizzying, all-encompassing, but now requiring him to take a step back and redefine himself without her. The ultimate coming-of-age.
With that being said, Vivian’s character as a whole felt pretty flat to me. I wish we’d gotten more of her. Why was Miles so in love with her? We got the feelings related to him, but not so much of what related to her. I think I would have believed the narrative more otherwise (especially considering her identity as the more complicated of the two.)
Part of what’s so compelling about the way Miles functions in relation to his grief is that his story is very much a public one. He has very little say over what gets said about him online or in the news because his community latches onto his relationship as momentum. He navigates (elegantly) being a spokesperson despite not wanting to be, but still caring about issues that affect others. That was always Vivian’s domain, not his, and he’s trying not to be too much like her. We got to see a lot of how he dealt with peoples’ anger towards him in his situation.
And that being said, Miles was pretty flawed. He was obsessed with sex, blatantly unprepared for a lot of life situations, and sometimes inconsiderate. But I definitely was interested in reading about him and he made me question a lot, in both good and bad ways. I think it’s healthy to challenge characters and read about people who can be shitty sometimes.
Clearly, I could go on about the curiosities of Miles’s character for ages.
Anyhow, the story really gains traction when Miles goes to Iceland. The part of him that just wants to wallow in his sadness contrasts with his guilt over his family providing for him there. He struggles with the freedom of it, while still relishing the little things that get him through the day. Cultural aspects of Iceland jolt him in the right ways, and he flashes back in small fits of melancholy. It’s also rather sexual in terms of him thinking about getting back into the swing of things. Miles was definitely on the prowl for a good amount of the book.
The relationship with Oskar in Iceland was stunning and probably my favorite part. Alternating doses of heaviness and absurdity, friendship and the other, was done remarkably well and I loved how they each developed and influenced each other.
To be clear, the book isn’t about him falling for someone to get over Vivian. It’s not even about him glorifying Vivian. It’s — in my opinion — a solid depiction of peoples’ shortcomings and strengths, constantly at war with each other. Getting over others while being both your own person, and getting to know others. Throughout it all, Vivian’s personality never overshadows Miles’s, which I appreciated, although maybe to a fault.
Small details I want to be picky about include the fact that he’s emailing/instant messaging this girl, which doesn’t feel entirely realistic in YA.
Miles Away from You has definite flaws, but it’s a quick read and poignant. I think I need to do more research on the ways in which it can be problematic, so that I make sure I’m not misunderstanding anything. But it’s a hard-hitting and thought-provoking read that I appreciated, in what little ways I can understand.