Evelyn Bucknow is at the center of everything. From her vantage point, the ten year old narrator of local author Laura Moriatry’s richly nuanced novel sees all sides. She lives smack in the center of the United States with her single mother and disabled brother in a cheap apartment outside small-town Kerrville, Kansas. As she grows into a college-bound young adult, Evelyn witnesses the battle between her compassionately rebellious but immature mother and her loyal and stable but judgmental grandmother. Escorting her mother to sign up for food stamps, Evelyn worries what President Regan will think after hearing him on TV complain about welfare queens. She also worries what her curiosity-inspiring science teacher thinks of her, but she feels compelled to follow her evangelical Christian grandmother, who protests the teaching of evolution in that class. She soaks up the neighbor’s cutting remarks about her mother’s relationship with her married boss—the same neighbor who regularly screams at her own husband and kids and doesn’t pack a lunch for her son when he’s gone all day, leaving Evelyn’s already impoverished mother to feed him, which she gladly does. Evelyn loses her first love to her more beautiful best friend and is mistreated by the snotty rich girl at school, but she still feels sorry for them when their hopelessly bad decisions and bad luck turn life against them.
While everyone around her is oblivious to how their poor choices impact their lives, Evelyn lies in the snow pretending to make snow angels, holes up in her bedroom reading books that are gifts from encouraging teachers, and climbs on top of the apartment roof at night to watch the stars and contemplate life. Evelyn is smart. She’s usually the first to finish tests in school and the one who wins the science fair because she follows directions. It’s her introspection and her ability to think for herself despite all the oppositional forces around her that enables Evelyn to break the cycle of underachievement and instability that navigates the lives of her family, friends and neighbors.
Evelyn does take sides at first. As many teenage girls do, she wants to distance herself from her mother, “I’ve drawn a line between us, the difference between her and me. It’s like one of the black lines between states on maps, lines between different countries on the globe. They don’t really exist. You don’t really see a long black line when you cross from the United States into Mexico, from Kansas to Missouri. But everyone knows where they are, and they are important, keeping one state separate from the other, so you can always tell which one you’re in.” But by the end of the novel Evelyn has figured out, like the girl who wrote one of her most treasured books, The Diary of Anne Frank, that despite people’s flaws, most people are good at heart. Evelyn Bucknow is in the middle of everything, but she’s not stuck.