What a moment it is – the moment of recognition, the moment when you feel like someone has seen you. For me, this moment of connection sends an almost physical jolt through me. One of the things I loved the most about Linda Urban’s artfully crafted, painfully beautiful book The Center of Everything is how accurately it captures that moment of recognition and belonging. There is a moment when our main character, the unforgettable Ruby Pepperdine, is surrounded on both sides both physically and mentally by the love and support of two friends and you, as the reader, feel as embraced as Ruby. You are able to stop and listen even as you are reading. I felt that jolt of recognition in this text in this wonderful moment and, maybe even better, I felt a jolt of pleasure too.
Why I Love This Book
Craft. Craft. Craft. Craft. This is, without a doubt, one of the most well-crafted children’s novels I’ve ever read. Yes, but what does that mean? For me, that means that everything in The Center of Everything is deliberate; that great thought and careful work has gone into weaving the story together so that it forms a unified, powerful narrative, a story where all the threads come together in a way that is subtle and moving on several levels at once. Craft, to me, means that this is a story that moves you without pushing you. Craft is the way this story uses circles, math, and physics as a narrative device about learning and healing and the way the story simultaneously uses the simple, physical shape of a doughnut – the shape of, you guessed it, a circle – to represent connection and unity. Craft is the way none of this SHOUTS at the reader, the way, instead, it just all fits together, works together, and makes each other element richer and more resonant. Craft is the structure of sentences, the use of point of view, both of which are stylistically advanced. And craft is the very artful way Urban chooses to make the chapters short and move the action in them between the present and recent past, thus making the reader feel the sting of pain and the breathless yet hopeful confusion that Ruby herself feels. This is a well-crafted story and it shows on every page. Young readers might not pick up on every one of these subtleties but that’s part of the beauty of this craft – young readers don’t have to analyze it, they’ll just enjoy it and be completely enchanted by it.
The Center of Everything is very much Ruby Pepperdine’s story: the story of how she is dealing with grief in the wake of her grandmother’s death, the story of how she is navigating new and old friendships, and the story of how she’s trying to figure out what she believes in and why. BUT The Center of Everything is *also* the story of a place, a very specific place, a small-town in New Hampshire called Bunning. Bunning is a place where everyone knows your name, where there are acapella groups, amateur stargazing groups, and yearly essay contests about the town’s founder for schoolchildren. Bunning is the type of town where you can have friends for your whole life and things like parades are whole-town-wide shebangs. Because of all this, Bunning is as much as character in this story as Ruby and the lessons she learns about loving and understanding your place are essential to her healing AND her sense of identity. I live in a place like Bunning, so this was ESPECIALLY special to me (“That’s my town,” I wanted to shout over and over,) but I think you could live anywhere and still connect to Bunning and recognize it as as a fundamental element of this story’s success.
The Center of Everything is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library. If they don’t have it, request they buy a copy. I think The Center of Everything skews a little bit younger than some middle-grade books (Ruby has just turned 12) but I think it still has lots of appeal to more sophisticated readers because it is so well-written. It reminded me of Gary Schmidt’s work: thoughtful and really emotionally moving. I highly recommend this for readers aged 9-12 and, particularly, the readers you have (oh, you know the ones) who hunger for books that are more – the readers who want books that will jolt them with moments of recognition.
The Center of Everything made me cry. It also made my heart flutter with happiness as I saw all the pieces of it come together with such deliberate plotting and, yes, such love. The Center of Everything is a lovely piece of art for many reasons but perhaps most of all because it’s a book about how the hole, the thing you think is missing, can be the thing that not just turns your life inside out but also shows you everything strong, good, and kind in your world.
And in you.