Published by HarperCollins on January 12th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
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This full-length novel by debut author Natalie Blitt is a pitch-perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins and Miranda Kenneally that proves the age-old adage: opposites attract.
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.
“It means the distance from A to Z is really just an alphabet of possibilities.”
This debut was fun, cute, and totally endearing. The characters were likeable and you couldn’t help but want to hug Abby after hearing her whole story. I love the slow burn between our hero and heroine, starting from immediate judgement and dislike when they met, to becoming French partners and then more. There was a very innocent feel to the entire story; being away from home, pursuing your dreams, falling in love, and I think the characters pulled it off well.
“Does this mean . . .”
“I want us to be more than French partners,” he says, smiling, eyes on me.
“More than French partners?” I lean forward. “Badminton partners too?”
A slow smile awakens his face again. “You don’t like sports.”
I lean forward another tiny quarter inch. We shouldn’t be talking anymore; there are so many better things to do. But . . .
I love this. “Badminton isn’t a sport.”
I think part of the reason I liked this story so much is because of the French immersion and Abby’s love for the language, it reminds me a lot about myself. The entire language and culture is so beautiful, and for a teenager to be able to pick that out and pursue it so passionately is inspiring. She can perfectly define everything she needs to say in this language, where as in English things can be lost. Abby felt like she didn’t fit in with her family; baseball was their passion but not hers. The summer French program was her way of branching out and discovering a place she fit, developing a skill she wants and meeting people in the same position as her.
“The fact that in French you don’t say I miss you. You say tu me manques: literally, you are missing from me. Because when you miss someone, it’s more than just the active feeling of missing, it’s like they have actually taken a piece of you with them when they left, the piece of you that was theirs.”
Growing up in Canada, we are a bilingual country and are required to learn both languages in school. I took French classes for 7 years, and have used very little ever since. I loved the feelings this book brought back for me and how much of it I was still able to translate. In this sense, the writing was exquisite. Any place where French sentences, words or phrases were used, the author doesn’t just come out and translate it. She flows it into the next sentence so perfectly that at first I almost didn’t notice. Even the parts that I couldn’t translate, you never missed out on what was happening between the characters. Natalie had a very strong grasp of how to incorporate two languages into one book, and how to match them perfectly back and forth; she did a splendid job.
The differences between Zeke while he was speaking in English and Zeke while he was speaking in French were quite intriguing. English Zeke is a jock, a player, and everything Abby wanted to avoid. But French Zeke is a sweet and caring guy who wants to get to know her. Throughout the book, I found the French dialogue to be almost their way of showing who they really are, without pretences, stereotypes or the judgement of others. A way to be who you want to be, to say what you want to say without the worry of fitting what other people see. This was a big safety net for both main characters and where their relationship truly progressed.
“French Zeke is fun and charming and maybe, maybe the kind of guy I daydream about a bit. But English Zeke is not. English Zeke wears a baseball cap and a lazy smile and his hand in some girl’s back pocket as he walks across campus.”
The relationship with the secondary characters was superb. The way that Abby and her roommate Alice could help each other through their struggles and simultaneously laugh, hurt, and spew wisdom beyond their years is something everyone should be able to experience in their lifetime.
This story moved at a plausible pace, but as for the plot twist I found it a bit predictable. However, every aspect of the plot was planned and timed well, and was successful at keeping the reader engaged. I do wish we could have gotten an extra chapter or maybe two, to tie everything back together. I have a few questions still and would’ve liked to see how Abby and Zeke ended the program and what happened from there.
Given this is a debut, I think Natalie Blitt did a great job. Overall there could’ve been more depth and growth in the characters and their relationship, but I finished The Distance from A to Z feeling satisfied and happy, with a feeling of warm fuzzies and cheesy smile plastered on my face.