The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Meagan M. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book, YA Romance category.

The summary:

Seventeen-year old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.

That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to exclusively wear baseball caps and jerseys.

But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between the distance between who she is and who he is, is worth the risk.

Here is Meagan M.’s review:

The first thing that you should know about this book is that it is YA romance, which I didn’t realize when I signed up for it since it was under the “best first book” category. Abby and Zeke’s ages are never actually given, although their French professor ensures they are both over 17 due to some explicit course content. It is difficult to review it because certain things that are hallmarks of YA don’t work for me.

The book opens on Abby having some sort of panic episode that is never referenced again. Instead her dorm roommate ends up being the one with a diagnosed anxiety disorder. I couldn’t understand why it was mentioned when she never has nervousness or anxiety that is outside of the average lovesick jitters ever again, but the opening paragraphs make quite a deal out of it. Anyway, Abby’s two brothers drop her off at a college where she is taking a summer long intensive French course, and the idea that her family is bananas crazy about baseball and the Cubs in particularly is hammered home, as her brothers want to watch the game, listen to the game, and drop her off in a hurry in order to find a sports bar to watch the next game.

This baseball theme runs through the entire book. Abby has latched onto French as something as far away from baseball as possible, so that she can put a wall between her family and herself, an interest that’s only hers, and one that she hopes will be her ticket to actually leaving the USA and going to study abroad in Paris.

Abby ends up meeting Zeke, and since he is dressed head-to-toe in baseball themed clothing, she assumes that he’s into baseball and even though he is showing an interest in her, she tries to squash it at every opportunity. Of course, he is the only other high school student taking the same intensive French course and the professor asks if they will partner up for the duration since she wants to avoid weirdness between pairing a high school student and a college student, particularly when there are NC-17 movies in the syllabus.

Plot Twist
The big twist near the 80% point is that Zeke plays baseball at his high school and is so good that he’s looking to get drafted immediately upon graduation. Abby only finds out when she Instagrams a photo of the two of them together and her brothers freak out when they recognize him. But I have a few problems with this. First, Abby’s brothers saw him when they dropped her off at her dorm. If they were going to recognize him on sight, shouldn’t they have done so then, when he was right in front of them? Especially since he makes a comment about the baseball game. And second, Zeke apparently attends high school in San Diego. How would two men from Chicago know about a high school wunderkind on the other side of the country?

The whole baseball thing in general didn’t work for me. I can understand that Abby would be frustrated and feel neglected by her family and want to pursue other interests. But we get the picture that Abby used to love baseball too, until something happened, but the book never tells us exactly what. There are a few hints that her previous boyfriends were only interested because of the family’s season tickets or something, but that hardly seems like enough for her to completely want to remove all baseball from her life. I kept waiting for a huge reveal and it never came. Instead, Abby just decided one day to hate baseball and she’s stuck with it. It didn’t seem like enough of an obstacle to keep two people apart.

Part of the writing style of this book includes AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT of French interjections and translations mid-text. I can read French so this was annoying to me in a different way – the text was very repetitive. But for non-French speakers, I could see it be annoying in another way, as lots of French you don’t understand breaking up the flow of the book. And when I say a lot, there is quite a bit.

There were two points in the book that I didn’t like at all. First, there was some girl-on-girl slut shaming that I don’t appreciate seeing in any book, and while the narrative does try to backpedal later, but the earlier comments are never apologized for. Zeke is apparently hot stuff and has a lot of female admirers on campus, and Abby frequently looks down on these girls for showing too much skin. In the third chapter, she thinks:

Her smile is wide, her chin coming down almost to her shoulder as she plays shy. I’m sorry, but nobody whose behind is sticking that far out from their shorts, whose tank top is that low-cut, is shy.

Later on, in chapter 13, she thinks:

There’s something about the fact that I’d believed they were taking Introduction to Basket Weaving that has me feeling like a terrible person. A terrible, judgey person who believes that women who have unblemished skin and short skirts are somehow less capable.

And then, along with that, there’s a scene that narrowly escapes being a date rape scene. She’s rescued by a friend of hers before any assault can take place, but it’s never ever referenced again. But she’s clearly being given alcohol and marijuana despite being only 17 or 18, and a guy continually puts his hand up her skirt even though she keeps pushing him away. It bothered me how normalized the scene was, and almost played for humor as Abby is a drunken, blabbering mess, mistakenly telling Zeke all of her secret feelings while she’s under the influence.

This book doesn’t have any sexy times. They talk about maybe going “all the way” but they never do. They don’t even go to second base (pun intended). The HEA is more of a HFN, as they are only 17+ and there’s no forever commitment alluded to. The central conflict about hating baseball for no real reason and that including anyone else that plays or enjoys baseball made it very hard for to relate to. This is the disconnect for me, since I don’t really see it as a big deal. I kept wondering if maybe baseball had turned her parents into drug addicts or something, but it was just that she didn’t like how preoccupied her family was over it, which evidently meant that she had to completely excise it from her life.This book did not work for me. It didn’t have anything particularly special and the conflict was overblown.

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The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt

January 12, 2016

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