Desert Isle Keeper
Any Place But Here
Any Place But Here is a strongly written, quiet little novel about realistic characters experiencing realistic emotions and going through realistic turmoil. Author Sarah Van Name handles this all with elegant and beautifully done prose.
June and her best friend Jess are inseparable. They’re even asked to leave Greenmont, their private North Carolina school, together after they’re caught getting drunk on whiskey in the girls’ bathroom during the school’s Jingle Bell Ball in the first semester of their junior year.
June’s parents send her to her Oma’s (Grandmother’s) home in West Virginia so she can enroll in the all-girls boarding school where Oma works in the hope that the new school will perhaps enable her to disentangle herself from the intense friendship she and Jess share. While Jess starts getting on with her life back at home, June is heartbroken, blaming herself for their expulsion. But slowly and determinedly – and with the help of her Oma and her love of photography – June starts to forge a relationship with herself and develop an identity that’s not wrapped around her closeness with Jess. She makes friends, and begins to fall for Sam, a local whom she meets in a cemetery. But will June ever confront her feelings for Jess – and when she does, what will she realize about herself?
I can’t tell you how much I related to June, who is rebellious and slowly learning more and more about herself and her own sexuality. Her story is quiet but agonizing – any queer person who has longed for a community and identity will have gone through what she has. The ordinary feeling of the story may be simple and it might not be an out there outlandish thing, but it’s concrete and real and true.
And June isn’t the only person who’s come to realize her own bi; there are two supporting bisexual characters. I’m delighted by the level of representation in the book, how natural it feels, how real June’s angst over her feelings for Jess is, and how they have driven the intensity of the friendship all along. If you’ve ever pined for your best friend, you will understand how June feels. Her journey is life-affirming without being heartbreaking, bold and driven by the heart of the character without feeling preachy or misplaced.
But the book also recognizes that it’s important to have a full life outside of romance, and the secondary characters – Oma, all of the friends June makes at a diner nearby, the girls she meets at school, and Sam – are drawn with a careful pen, etching them onto the page as authentic-feeling people. The fabulously independent, smartly-written Oma is a standout in particular – you would want someone like her standing beside you were you ever in trouble.
Any Place But Here is a fabulous book, beautifully committed to the page, and well worth space on any teenager’s bookshelf.