Before I begin – I wasn’t sure I wanted to review this book at all. I read it, I ruminated on it, and then I started seeing some stuff online. It made me realize that I’m not the audience that will be most affected by this book. I’m not the audience that could be hurt by it. So this is a warning, before you go any further. The content of this book could trigger people, and I wouldn’t want that for anyone. So here are the content warnings for this book: suicide, mental illness, depression, transphobia, homophobia, abuse, self-harm, and pedophilia.
Miles Away from You is written as instant messages from Miles to Vivian, a vibrant trans girl who was his girlfriend until a suicide attempt left her in a coma. She’s been in that coma for over a year, and while he’s fought for her in every way he knows how, he finally gave up and decided to let her go. So he travels to Iceland alone, to experience a different place while he grieves and tries to let Vivian go. It’s in Iceland that he meets Óskar, the mysterious and strangely alluring employee of the hotel where Miles is staying. Through Óskar, Miles explores Iceland, discovers himself, and starts to heal slowly. He may never fully get over Vivian, but he’ll at least be able to move on.
That’s a terrible summary of the plot, but I hope it’s at least better than the copy that’s on Goodreads.
3 Things I Loved
- Óskar. Óskar was easily the best part of this book. He was a bit of a mystery at first, but truly he was just stuck, stuck in a life he didn’t love. Stuck. I loved how he related to Miles, put up with Miles’ nonsense, helped Miles. Loved on Miles a bit. He was a great character, and there was just enough hope at the end to keep me satisfied.
- Iceland. This book made me want to go to Iceland SO BADLY. Major setting swoon. [Note – I’ve never been to Iceland, so I have no idea if the rep is accurate.]
- Miles’ growth. I didn’t love Miles. He was deeply flawed, I didn’t agree with many of his choices, and he was a loose cannon. And he was kind of shitty toward Óskar when they were both just trying to grieve in their own ways. But he did grow. He did “get over” Vivian, he began to “accept” that she wasn’t waking up from her coma while he was gone, but he also didn’t lose her. I hate even saying that and I hate that it’s in the copy. I just want that known.
Okay, so here’s where this is difficult for me. I can only comment on what I know and what I’ve learned in my life. I am a cis person, and I think this book in particular would benefit from #ownvoices reviews. If you know of any, LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS! I’ll boost them!
But let’s get into the things that I noticed. And there will be spoilers, so beware.
First, let’s talk about Miles. Miles is a white teenage boy who self-identifies as pansexual on the page. Miles fell in love with Vivian, a trans girl, after they had chatted online for a months (potentially years, I don’t remember exactly). All of that is fine. But there are two things that bothered me a lot about Miles.
- He’s a White Savior through and through. He saved Vivian by falling in love with her, and now he’s trying to work through not being able to save her when she attempted suicide. So he tries to save Óskar instead.
- HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL SO HE COULD HANG OUT WITH VIVIAN IN A CABIN THAT SHE LIVED IN AT A CAMP??? This part baffled me, just in terms of logistics. What is this supposed to teach young readers? That it’s okay drop out of school when you fall in love with an older person? NO, DON’T DO THAT. Good grief, don’t do that!!
Okay, now we have to talk about Vivian. But here’s the thing about Vivian – we, as readers, don’t actually meet her. Ever. All we have is Vivian through Miles’ eyes. Which… hmm. This is a book that says, IN THE FIRST LINE OF THE COPY, that it’s about a trans girl, but she is never on the page. That’s a problem, especially when Miles’ identity (specifically that he considers himself pansexual) isn’t identified along with hers, so it looks like he’s just a cishet white guy. Oof. The copy is super problematic, let me tell you. But okay, Vivian. She is also written in a problematic way, and it almost makes me uncomfortable to talk about it.
- She’s black. That, in itself, is fine. Had she been on the page, had she been part of the book itself, we would have had a BLACK TRANS GIRL on the page!! Rejoice! But alas… she is in a coma, and she dies before the end of the book. So not only did an LGBTQIA+ character get killed off in this book, but it was a trans woman of color. That’s not okay. We have enough of that in real life; we don’t need it in YA unless it’s going to be attacked head on (ala The Hate U Give).
- Her parents are described as monsters who call Vivian by the wrong name, use the wrong pronouns, and dress her as her former self. Again, think about the implications of this. They are a family of color on the page of a YA book, and they are HORRIBLE. Again, that’s not okay.
The last thing I want to point out is a stereotype brought to life by Óskar’s boyfriend for most of the book, a wealthy, much older Welsh man who is largely absent from Iceland, but who still holds a lot of influence over Óskar’s life. And the stereotype is this – older gay man is a pedophile. Óskar’s boyfriend (I didn’t even bother to remember his name because he’s TRASH) met Óskar after Óskar’s mother died. Óskar was like, fourteen. FOURTEEN. And now he’s nineteen (I think? Maybe a little older? I can’t remember exactly?) and he’s still with that guy because he’s trapped and I CANNOT.
This was one of those books I didn’t love while I was reading it, but I didn’t hate it either. As I thought on it more, I started to feel squickier and squickier about it. My original Goodreads rating was three or four stars (I removed it when I realized how terrible the copy was and saw some remarks on Twitter about how there haven’t been any #ownvoices reviews yet), but if I put the stars back up, I’m thinking two TOPS. These things are problematic, and they’re stereotypical, and if I don’t want to be hit with stereotypes, I can only imagine how it would feel when that has defined groups of people for hundreds of years.
A reminder of the rating scale:
- Red = DNF, I hated everything
- Orange = Ugh, no thank you
- Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
- Green = This was good!
- Blue = Oh my gosh, I loved this book!
- Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart and EVERYONE should be reading it!
Oof. After all of this, I think there is only one rating that I could possibly give this book. I’m giving Miles Away from You an ORANGE rating. I want some #ownvoices reviews of this book. I’ll be looking for them.
Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Share links of any other reviews of this book, especially #ownvoices reviews, in the comments, please!