Grade Level: Fifth (interest level High School)
A World Away is a coming of age novel about a young Amish woman experiencing her first taste of freedom. 16 year old Eliza is excited for her upcoming rumspringa. But to her disappointment she learns that her parents have no intention of letting her leave the district. They have decided that a job at a local inn and the chance to attend parties is all she will be able to do.
Eliza, understandably so, is very disappointed. She thought that, like her brother James, she would be allowed several weeks in a far off place. She shares this disappointment with her close friends, Kate and Annie. She also confesses her desire to be out of her world to her close guy friend, Daniel.
A stranger from out of town invites Eliza to stay with her as her nanny. Of course Eliza is thrilled at the prospect of moving close to Chicago, but is bitterly disappointed when her parents tell her no.
Continuing to feel restless, Eliza runs away from Sunday services. As she is walking home, Daniel picks her up in his buggy. He encourages her to find a way to go experience the world but also confesses his desire to court her. When her parents return home from service, they sit down with Eliza. For reasons unexplained to her, she is granted permission to live with Mrs. Aster near Chicago.
Ultimately, this book is about finding who you are and where you belong. The author does a great job developing rich friendships between the characters. However, there are several things that give me reason to pause.
The first is the love triangle between Eliza, Josh, and Daniel. While at home, Eliza is open with Daniel about her desire to go away and not court him just yet. Once at the Aster house, she develops a relationship with Josh. She clearly struggles with her feelings for both boys. But moves quickly with Josh.
Which brings me to my second concern, she develops a physical relationship with Josh. On page 208 Grossman writes, “It turned out he wanted to be in the car. He opened the back door with a sweep, and we climbed in, the quiet settling around us… He lay across the the backseat and pulled me down on top of him… He reached under my shirt, and I felt his fingertips on my skin and over my bra.” Eliza mentions later that if she and Josh were back home and courting they’d be allowed to “bundle”. When I first read this term, I thought about the scene from The Patriot where Heath Ledger is being sewn into a bundling bag. In this case, bundling refers to the ability to lay on your bed with your boyfriend, fully clothed, and cuddle with the bedroom door closed. Eliza also mentions being “skin to skin” with Josh and enjoying it.
My third concern is the coed sleepover. Technically, Eliza did not know that the boys would be staying over after the dance too. But once she found out, she stayed and participated in the drinking game. Eliza passes out on top of Josh on the couch. In the wee hours of the morning, Eliza wakes up and spends some time over the toilet. She then asks Josh to take her home. He makes it all the way into Rachel’s driveway before hitting anything.
Fourthly, there is a lot of unsupervised time between Josh and Eliza. He comes over to Rachel’s house while she and her husband are at work. Rachel is aware Josh is over.
The book does have some redeeming qualities, but overall I am not sure this book is for everyone. The text is written on a 5th grade level, but clearly the topic is for an older audience. Despite all of this, I still found myself wanting to know what happened to Eliza when she returned home!
Lesson Plan Ideas:
- Write a journal entry as if you were Eliza. Would you feel the need to run wild? Why or why not?