The Center of Everything

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Overview

A dazzling debut in the tradition of Jane Hamilton and Mona Simpson.

In Laura Moriarty's extraordinary first novel, a young girl tries to make sense of an unruly world spinning around her. Growing up with a single mother who is chronically out of work and dating a married man, 10-year old Evelyn Bucknow learns early how to fend for herself.

Offering an affecting portrayal ...

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The Center of Everything: A Novel

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Overview

A dazzling debut in the tradition of Jane Hamilton and Mona Simpson.

In Laura Moriarty's extraordinary first novel, a young girl tries to make sense of an unruly world spinning around her. Growing up with a single mother who is chronically out of work and dating a married man, 10-year old Evelyn Bucknow learns early how to fend for herself.

Offering an affecting portrayal of a troubled mother/daughter relationship, one in which the daughter is very often expected to play the role of the adult, the novel also gives readers a searing rendering of the claustrophobia of small town midwestern life, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Evelyn must come to terms with the heartbreaking lesson of first love -- that not all loves are meant to be -- and determine who she is and who she wants to be. Stuck in the middle of Kansas, between best friends, and in the midst of her mother's love, Evelyn finds herself . . . in The Center of Everything.

About the Author:
Since earning her M.A. from the University of Kansas, Laura Moriarty won the George Bennet Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. This is her first novel. She's at work on her next novel and lives in Portland, Maine.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Laura Moriarty's debut novel has the makings of something wearily familiar: the Midwestern mother-daughter coming-of-age story, featuring at least one episode in which Mom leaves home looking like a movie star but winds up collapsing in tears. Happily, Ms. Moriarty's artful, enveloping book is a lot more interesting than its genre initially suggests. It traces not only stormy adolescence, but also the essential stages of Evelyn's moral and intellectual evolution. — Janet Maslin
San Diego Union Tribune
Teriffic…. Moriarty has steady confidence…expertly wringing poignancy from…young lives…. A deeply satisfying novel.
Time Out New York
Moriarty creates empathetic, engaging characters and situations.
Chicago Tribune
Graceful and poignant.
Denver Post & Rocky Mountain Ne
Lively and endearing… complete tour of…conflicts between mother and daughter, as well as between the narrator's hopes and dreams.
Christina Schwartz
This impressive debut is a marvelously satisfying story . . . Moriarty eschews tough questions . . . competing loves and loyalties of adolescence.
From The Critics
A sweet, often comic series of tender moments spun from real-life battles.
USA Today
It's not easy to build a novel around a personality, but Moriarty does it well. — Anne Stephenson
Elle Magazine
Intelligent and charming debut novel.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Moriarty's enchanting novel passes too quickly.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402545146
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 6/2/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 8 cassettes,
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 4.16 (h) x 2.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Moriarty
Laura Moriarty received her master's degree from the University of Kansas and was awarded the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. She is the author of The Center of Everything. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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    1. Hometown:
      Maine
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 24, 1979
    2. Place of Birth:
      Honolulu, Hawaii
    1. Education:
      B.S.W., University of Kansas, 1993; M.A. in English, University of Kansas, 2000

Read an Excerpt

I look out my window, down at the yellow rectangles whizzing under us in the middle of the highway. There is nothing but fields of wheat on each side of the road, their feathery tops swirling in the heat. Last year, Ms. Fairchild read some of "My Antonia" to us. She said she wanted us to see Kansas and Nebraska the way it is in the book, beautiful, a breadbasket that feeds many people. She said Kansas is beautiful if you look at it the right way, and that we shouldn't believe anything other people try to say about it. "The abundance of it," she said, spreading her arms in her Wednesday dress, as if she were holding something large.

I like living in Kansas, not just because of the wheat, but because it's right in the center. If you look at a map of the world, the United States is usually right inthe middle, and Kansas is inthe middle of that. So right here where we are, maybe this very stretch of highway we are driving on, is the exact center of the whole world, what everything spirals out from.

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Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
Set in a stifling small town in Kansas against the backdrop of the Reagan era, Laura Moriarty’s The Center of Everything is the story of one young woman’s struggle to make sense of the world around her. Evelyn Bucknow, the insightful narrator of this novel, excels in school and loves to find the right answers. But outside the classroom, in her mixed-up, chaotic world, the right answers are not always easy to find, and her moving search makes this the perfect choice for a book club.

Evelyn’s is a world populated by people without safety nets: Her proud single mother is out of work, all but estranged from her deeply religious family, and involved with a married man; Evelyn's defender and first love is Travis, the troubled, angry boy next door, abandoned by his father. But the shabby apartment complex she lives in is seemingly built on such circumstances, home to cast-off lovers, children, and cats. Although Evelyn seeks to draw clear boundaries -- between right and wrong, between what she has been given and what may never be -- her mother's pregnancy blurs the lines between parent and child. Evelyn is left not only to raise herself but to make sense of the sneers of her neighbors and her grandmother’s fanatically religious friends.

Book groups will notice that the novel's themes extend beyond Evelyn's story into the lives of other characters and the very atmosphere of the story. Her newborn brother is afflicted with physical and mental handicaps, and many readers will find common ground in Evelyn's mother’s small triumphs and heartbreaking challenges as she helps her infant son encounter the world. Travis, meanwhile, must make his own discoveries as he learns that the choices he makes can change his life permanently. Finally, the novel's setting in Reagan-era America provokes much broader discussions of history in the context of this small town -- from the activities of Oliver North to a battle between a biology teacher and fundamentalists who want to keep evolution out of the curriculum.

In The Center of Everything, Evelyn comes to understand the importance of perspective, in both science and in life, and the uncertainty that is part of existence. Moriarty's novel invites readers to examine their own choices and discuss how a change in point of view might, indeed, alter their world's center. Elise Vogel

Discussion Questions from the Publisher

1. Who is narrating? What historic or other signposts are available to the reader so that the story can be located in time and place? To whom or what does the title refer?

2. What do you think of Evelyn, Tina, and Eileen? What about Tina's father? What kind of people are they? What do they look like? What is Sam's role in the family and in the story? Share your impressions of other characters that stand out, and why.

3. When do you learn the narrator's name? What is going on in the story when this occurs? What, if any, is the significance of the scene where the narrator's name is revealed? When do you learn the narrator's name? What is going on in the story when this occurs? What, if any, is the significance of the scene where the narrator's name is revealed?

4. How does Moriarty use language to reflect the experiences and thoughts of the characters? Examine and discuss whether or not Evelyn's thoughts and spoken words are reflective of a child's point of view, and why. Share some examples that you find effective and/or moving.

5. How do Evelyn's feelings about her mother affect your feelings about Tina? Explore whether or not you are sympathetic or disgusted by Tina, and why. At the end of Chapter 11, why does Evelyn not wipe her mother's kiss off of her forehead? Share some examples of how Moriarty brings out the mother/daughter relationship and whether or not you can relate to it, and why.

6. Why do you believe Tina doesn't speak to her father? How do you respond when you learn that he told the family that a "little horse" is coming to dinner? Discuss this scene, and its implications. Consider how such a small phrase can reveal so much.

7. The car that doesn't shift is one of the many symbols Moriarty uses. What is its symbolism? Share some of the other symbols used throughout the story and how they are utilized.

8. Discuss the whole school milieu that Moriarty evokes in The Center of Everything. What are the roles of friendship pins and particular pieces of clothing in the lives of grade-school kids? What are your memories and experiences of these years? Share whether or not you think Moriarty successfully conveys these school experiences, and why.

9. Discuss the use of religion as a recurring theme throughout the book. As a storytelling device, what purpose does it serve? Why would a man as "religious" as Tina's father shun his daughter and be so unforgiving? How does Eileen live her beliefs? How does religion affect Evelyn? What happens at the church meeting with the healer? Why do people believe in healers? Share whether or not Tina comes to believe in some sort of religion, and why.

10. Why does Moriarty use the struggle between evolution and creationism in the story? What makes it particularly useful here? Why do people have this debate? Examine whether or not the characters' positions ring true, and why. What would you say to those who have different beliefs than yours?

11. Do you believe Deena's pregnancy is motivated by Travis' change of plans? Should Evelyn have shared this Deena? What position does Evelyn put herself in by doing this?

12. How does the car accident that kills Traci affect Evelyn? What motivates Evelyn to initially keep Traci's belongings hidden? Examine the significance and possible symbolism of Evelyn hanging onto Traci's clothes and locket into high school, and what they represent to Evelyn after Traci's death.

13. Discuss the underlining theme throughout the novel of being chosen or not being chosen.

14. Discuss Moriarty's use of foreshadowing throughout The Center of Everything. How does it influence your reading?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 92 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(38)

4 Star

(30)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 92 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely Fantastic!

    I had read Laura Moriarty's other 2 books before I read this one and I feel like even though I went in reverse order, I saved the best for last. I am an avid reader and audio-book listener and this was by far one of the best books I have read in a long time. You cheer for Evelyn and her family the whole way, hoping that they will finally catch a break in life. I was so sad to see it end just when she was ready to start the next chapter of her life in college. Perhaps a sequel? A must-read!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    Perfect

    Probably my favorite book this year. Poignant without being whiney, poetic, funny, and very hard to put down. A must for any book club.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2003

    Great read

    I live in a remote location and read constantly. This was by far the best book I have read in a long long time. I can not wait for her next book. I grew up in the same era as Evelyn and I think everyone either knew or was a character in the book. Very easy to relate to and even harder to put down!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

    Great Freebie!!

    This book pulled me into the storyline from the start! Put this one on your TBR list...

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2007

    Great debut!

    The Center of Everything is a fresh and eloquently written coming-of-age story set in Kansas in the 1980s. The novel is written from the perspective of Evelyn Bucknow and spans a period of 8 years 'from when she is 10 years old to 18'. Moriarty does an excellent job of depicting Evelyn at each age, showing Evelyn's narration gradually mature. This novel is truly a must read. It will have you crying and laughing all the way through. The tense relationship between Evelyn and her mother is perfectly depicted. So is the relationship between Evelyn and her two friends, Deena and Travis. By the end of the novel, you feel as if you have known Evelyn your whole life. It as if you have literally been standing beside her as she deals with all of hte trials and tribulations that come with growing up. The Center of Everything was the best book I have read in the past year, and I am looking forward to more great books from Laura Moriarty!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2012

    Loved this book!

    Great coming of age book. Excellantly written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2011

    Greatest+book%21%21%21

    It+was+amazing%21+I+loved+the+WHOLE+story%21%21+I+admired+eveything+but+the+last+oage.+It+didnt+have+much+closer.+But+i+recomend+this+book+to+peiple+from+ages+10%2B+because+of+the+amount+of+swears+and+mentionings.+It+also+includes+some+religious+beliefs+that+only+older+people+will+understand.+Other+than+that+i+highly+recomend+this+book%21%22%22

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2007

    If only it never ended...

    I don't ordinarily post reviews, but felt compelled to offer my two cents after reading the criticism other readers recently posted. It's true--this isn't a high concept, Hollywood plot. If you're looking for twists and turns and completely lovable protagonists, look elsewhere. What this book has to offer is much more rewarding. It's subtle, with the narrator's voice changing slightly as she matures, and real, with a focus on the smaller moments that ultimately make Evelyn who she is. The characters are recognizable and complex. And Moriarty's prose is superb--beautiful and effortless. It was a wonderful read, one I will surely read again and again.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2007

    GOD AWFUL

    This book is the worst book I have read in a long time. The author jumps ahead 3 years in one page, then stretches one day our over 3 chapters. It is boring and pointless. The author does not explain important things. She also seems to forget things that happened, like in the middle of the book, they are watching TV, even though their power got cut off in the beginning. DO NOT BUY THIS!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    What Happened to the Ending??

    I kept waiting for this book to get better, just like I waited for Evelyn's life to get better. Then just when I thought she'd reach college and things would look-up the book ended. The story was sad and I could feel Evelyn's heartache. But, the ending was so abrupt and disappointing I don't know if it's worth the effort of reading the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2003

    I totally love this book

    I totally loved this book. One of the best things about it is how Evelyn, the main character's, voice changes as she ages from ten to seventeen. And Laura Moriarty really captures all the agony of adolescence. This book rings so true for me: I cannot wait to see what this author writes next.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2003

    A wonderful debut novel

    I enjoyed this beautifully written book. It captures the essence of an intelligent adolescent girl who has a sense of what life is all about without being handed any real tools to help her draw conclusions. Through the influence of teachers who believe in her, she begins to believe in herself. Moriarty's novel tells a story of family strife, love, discords and growth on the road to Evelyn Bucknow's maturity in a way that is believable and not syrupy. I found the story endearing and think it could be inspirational to teen girls faced with some of the same problems. I hated to have it end and found myself thinking of Evelyn for days after I finished the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2014

    Depressimg

    I am in the middle of the book. I just finished The Chaperone which was excellent. This book is well written but it seems more appropriate for a 12 year old who can identify with Evelyn. There's just so much heartache and despair. If the author was going for that she succeeded.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    Good book

    This is a story that sticks with you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2013

    couldn't put it down

    I read this book a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. Laura Moriarty is a fine writer and she captures you from the very first page.

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  • Posted August 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I love to read, anything from harry potter to fifty shades of gr

    I love to read, anything from harry potter to fifty shades of grey to books by Emily Giffin, Mitch Albom and Sophie Kinsella yet this book so far I have to force myself to finish. The first time i started I fell asleep during the first chapter, then it took me three days to actually read more because my friend who recommended it said she loved it but I am half way through the book and I hate it, I see nothing of significance happening in this story, I feel like Evelyn deserves better than Deena and Travis, they can't do anything but bring her down, they deserve each other because they are both stupid and have no aspirations in life....ugh! I may Rewrite this if by the end of the book by some miracle I like it....

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2011

    Great book!

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted November 29, 2010

    Amazingly Good!

    I absolutely loved this book! Its a story about a young, intelligent girl who is trying to find herself in the midst of everyone else. She sticks to her guns and is always original. There are obstacles she has to overcome and people she deals with but she does it in a gracious way and narrates the story like an adult versus a little girl. I enjoyed reading about life from her point of view and it was refreshing to read about someone who's mind stretched out beyond conventional thinking. Moriary puts this story together just as if it is her own life in a way that everyone can connect!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2010

    Still trying to finish

    This book is so slow moving and somewhat boring that every time I try to read it I find myself falling asleep. The story seems to be leading up to something, which is why I keep trying to read it but it's taking to long to really involve me in the story so that I want to stay with it! I will ammend this review if I ever get finished and find that the end is worth the effort of sticking with it, but so far I'm not there!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2010

    This was a great book.

    Though I'm much older than the main character, I can remember what it was like to not quite fit in. I could easily relate to Evelyn and her troubles and joys.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 92 Customer Reviews

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