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Far from Xanadu

Far from Xanadu

4.1 70
by Julie Anne Peters

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Every day in Coalton is pretty much the same. Mike pumps iron in the morning, drives her truck to school, plays softball in the afternoon, and fixes the neighbors' plumbing at night. But when an exotic new girl, Xanadu, arrives in the small Kansas town, Mike's world is turned upside down. Xanadu is everything Mike is not—cool, complicated, sexy, and...straight


Every day in Coalton is pretty much the same. Mike pumps iron in the morning, drives her truck to school, plays softball in the afternoon, and fixes the neighbors' plumbing at night. But when an exotic new girl, Xanadu, arrives in the small Kansas town, Mike's world is turned upside down. Xanadu is everything Mike is not—cool, complicated, sexy, and...straight. This heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful novel will speak to anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone just out of reach.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Many of the themes that Peters mined in Luna appear in this novel, but are more smoothly integrated, making this a more accessible read. For one thing, Mike (born Mary-Elizabeth), who narrates the novel, does not lead a double life, as Luna did. When Xanadu transfers to Mike's small Kansas school, she initially mistakes the narrator for a guy; Mike works out obsessively and dresses in her father's clothes (he killed himself two years ago). Mike, who "acknowledged" she was gay but doesn't embrace it like her male best friend, Jamie, falls hard for the troubled newcomer. The author creates a vivid backdrop in rural Coalton, and it's refreshing that residents accept and even embrace Mike, donating money to send the star softball player to an exclusive camp ("I never, for one day, felt judged or excluded or persecuted in Coalton"). Mike is a unique and realistically complex character, and while she wants to go to camp, she initially resists the town's charity. Her fallout with her morbidly obese mother doesn't seem quite severe enough given the two years of silent treatment she's received, and her own confused feelings towards her father at times seem forced. While Xanadu never becomes as real or as likable as Mike, the author convincingly paints Mike's physical attraction to Xanadu, as well as the heroine's descent into drinking as her obsession with the straight girl grows. Ultimately, readers will root for Mike and will come to understand her pain and need for love. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In this sensitively written book about unrequited love, the main character, Mike,—a lesbian—has much to deal with. Her father committed suicide two years ago and she still struggles with love, resentment, disappointment, and all of the feelings surrounding such a loss. Her mother has been perpetually depressed and non-communicative, probably disliking Mike because she was her father's favorite. Her brother is a typical loser, or so it seems until the end of the book. Finally, she is desperately attracted to Xanadu, the new "bad" girl in town and hopes that Xanadu might be sexually attracted to her, especially when Xanadu seems to send mixed messages. Any teen will be able to identify with the feeling of falling for someone who, while very friendly, does not seem to be romantically inclined. Fortunately, Mike has the support of her small town and her best friend, Jamie, who is openly gay and is equally accepted by the town. Mike also has her father's skills as a plumber and a very reasonable dream of resurrecting the family business. And she is a softball star and could well get a scholarship to college, a step she is considering even though she ultimately wants to return to her home. Mike grows to accept who she is, who her family is, and who Xanadu is, and to appreciate them all for what they have taught her about herself. By the author of Luna, this book tackles a variety of difficult subjects with appeal and grace. 2005, Little Brown and Company, Ages 14 up.
—Kathryn Erskine
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Mike Szabo must deal with more than her share of problems in this engaging, angsty novel. Her alcoholic father committed suicide, her obese mother has given up on life, and her no-good brother has driven the family plumbing business into the ground. To make matters worse, Mike falls deeply in love with a new girl in their small Kansas town. Bad-girl Xanadu has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle after getting into serious trouble dealing drugs. She befriends Mike instantly, though she's undeniably straight, and Mike suffers when Xanadu starts dating. Mike copes by working out at the gym, fixing her neighbors' plumbing, leading her softball team to a winning season, and occasionally binge drinking with her friends. Throughout the novel, she struggles to come to terms with her sexuality-while she is attracted to girls, she doesn't want to label herself, and objects when her gay best friend, Jamie, tries to do so. The people of Coalton are accepting of Mike and Jamie, but eventually Mike realizes that she will need to leave her small town in search of a first relationship, and that her athletic talent might give her a way out. Despite the multitude of difficulties the protagonist faces, the story never slips into melodrama, and all of the issues are handled with sensitivity and compassion. Xanadu sometimes threatens to become a stereotype as the exotic, sophisticated outsider who is also manipulative and selfish. Overall, though, readers will root for Mike in this heartfelt coming-of-age story.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Excellent characterization makes this piece shine. Mike's in her third year of high school in the town where she's always lived. When gorgeous Xanadu arrives (sent from the city for dealing drugs that killed someone), Mike falls head-over-heels in love. Xanadu is straight-but seems to be sending vibes. Peters weaves Mike's yearning for Xanadu together with Mike's love/hate feelings about her father, who committed suicide two years earlier. Mike follows in his footsteps by doing plumbing jobs with his old equipment. She excels at it, but she also excels at softball; which should she pursue? Must she leave this small town, or is everything she needs right here? Mike's a gritty and absorbing mix of pain and strength; Peters's other characters are also realistically complex (with the exception of Ma, whose fatness is used as a cheap symbol of dysfunction). Peters avoids casual assumptions-that college is necessarily better than plumbing, for example, or that gender is simple-to paint a memorable portrait of this girl and the small town she calls home. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)
460L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Far from Xanadu

By Julie Anne Peters

Little, Brown Young Readers

Copyright © 2007 Julie Anne Peters
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316159715

Chapter One

After my dad's suicide, the town council decided to remove the bottom portion of the ladder from the Coalton water tower. Like that was going to keep me down. We pooled our savings, me and Jamie, and bought a thirty-two-foot extension ladder at Hank's Hardware. In the long prairie grass around the tower, we could keep it hidden so no one would ever know.

Who were we kidding? This was Coalton. Everyone knew everything.

The sky was already pinking up and I was going to miss the whole show if I didn't hurry. I dragged the extension over and clanged it against the remaining rungs, then clambered up to the landing. The sun was peeking over the horizon as the gate screeked open to the walkaround. It was chilly. I could see my breath. I'd pulled a pair of Dad's sweats on over my boxers, but now wished I'd dug out a flannel shirt from the laundry. His ribbed undershirt was flimsy.

I sat on the metal platform and dangled my feet over the rim. Resting my forehead against the railing, I thought, Oh man. The colors - rose and amber, indigo, orange-streaked clouds. Dad said angels painted the sky at dawn and dusk. Dad was a liar, but I could almost believe him on that one. The magnificence, the majesty, the sheer magnitude of sky was beyond humandimension. Beyond understanding, expression. It was bigger than life. Bigger than death.

Only one thing could be better than a sunrise in Coalton-sharing it with the person you loved.

Someday ...

Someday ...

When I got home the house was quiet. Good. They were both still in bed. Maybe I could get out of here without an encounter of the ugly kind.

I changed into a clean muscle tee, but decided to wear the boxers to school. They looked cool. I threw on a hooded sweatshirt, since it'd be late by the time I got home tonight. "Morning, morning, morning." I performed my morning ritual - finger kissing all my nudie posters: Evangelina, Beemer Babe, the Maserati girl.

Down the dim hallway I heard Ma's radio click on full blast to a morning call-in show. I hustled to the kitchen to make a power shake and bail.

Two raw eggs, a scoopful of protein powder, water from the tap. I covered my plastic glass with a palm and shook it. As I swigged down the chalky goop, I lifted a shock absorber off the top of Darryl's stack of car zines and did a set of curls. My upper arm strength wasn't where it should be. The game with Deighton yesterday I underthrew to second and T.C. had to dig the ball out of the dirt. Inexcusable. I made a mental note to add another set of tricep extensions to my circuit. Another rep of lat pulls.

In my reflection off the grimy back door, I flexed. The sleeve of my sweatshirt bulged. Nice definition, if I did say so myself.

Darryl slimed into a chair at the dinette. On his way he'd snagged a can of Dinty Moore beef stew off the counter and popped the pull top, managing to slop half of it down his bare chest. Disgusting. I didn't claim him as a brother.

"I'm taking the truck today," I said.

"Fuck you are." He slurped right out of the can.

I considered crushing his skull with the shock absorber. Then figured his thick head might actually absorb the shock. "I need it for work. Everett wants me to run a load of feed up to the Tillson ranch near Ladder Creek."

"Use the Merc's flatbed." Darryl swiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

"Everett needs it for hauling portable stalls."

"Tough titties. Last time you made a delivery the inside of the truck reeked of sheep shit for a week."

"This is only grain. Milo and horse feed."

"No," Darryl said. He picked up his pack of Marlboros off the table and shook one out. "I need wheels today."

"For what? So you can joyride all over the county and take potshots at prairie dogs?"

"You been touching base with my secretary again?" Darryl smirked. He lit up a smoke.

The cafi doors to the kitchen crashed open and Darryl and I jumped.

Ma thundered into the room. She nearly wrenched off the loose handle as she yanked open the refrigerator. The door wouldn't swing all the way with her between it and the counter. I noticed she had on the same outfit she'd worn all week-a sleeveless gray shift that clung to her breasts and belly. Argyle knee socks bunched at the ankles. Her hair hadn't been combed or washed in, like, a month. She smelled worse than she looked.

"No milk," she stated flatly, releasing the handle so the door shut on its own.

"I'll go get you some," Darryl and I said together. Our eyes met briefly. He added, "I'm heading over to the Suprette, anyway. I got a job interview there this morning."

"What!" I screeched.

They both twisted their heads at the echo in the room. Did Ma focus? Did she actually see me? The momentary flicker of recognition died as she snatched a bag of powdered donuts off the top of the fridge and trundled back to her bedroom.

Ugliness, I thought. Too much ugliness in my life.

"I'll drop you at school if you want," Darryl said, sucking on his Marlboro.

I glared at him. "You're looking for a job? What about the job you've got?"

He exhaled smoke through his nose.

"My job. The one you stole from me." The one I'd be doing now if I didn't have to haul sheep shit in the truck.

"Mike, I keep telling you. It's not my fault -"

I slammed out the back door, seething to myself. Hating him. Hating both of them for crapping out my day.

* * *

Coalton High was my refuge. Not that I loved school or anything; it was just a place to go. I took the back way, through the Ledbetters' woodpile and behind the propane tanks at the Co-op. It was still only six blocks. I hit the front door as the warning bell rang for first hour.

Mrs. Stargell glanced up from roll call as I sauntered in. "Mike," she said.

"Miz S," I replied.

"Glad you could join us."

"It was on my way."

She stifled a grin, unsuccessfully.

Ida Stargell had to be a hundred years old, easy. She'd been teaching at Coalton High since the Jurassic Period. No kidding. Dad said he'd had her in high school for English, Math, and Biology - the only three A's he'd ever gotten. I was trying to beat his record by taking her for Lit and Bio in tenth grade last year, then Creative Writing and Geometry this year.

Geometry class was crammed. At Coalton High that meant fourteen seats were filled. Well, two desks were empty today. Shawnee Miller had been rushed to the hospital in Garden City on Tuesday after her appendix burst in gym. And Bailey McCall was out helping with the spring calving. So, twelve seats full. I should get an A in math for that calculation alone.

I liked Mrs. Stargell. Everybody did. Not only for her generosity in grading; she cared about us. Too much sometimes. If you were out sick for more than a day, she'd call or stop by your house in the evening. Two years ago she was stopping by to see me and Darryl a lot. She'd bring us casseroles and Jell-O molds, which Ma snarfed down like a sow in heat.

Miz S began writing a theorem on the board when a figure filled the open doorway. The pencil I'd been gnawing on clattered to the floor. This ... this girl appeared. She was the most beautiful creature in the world.

She stood beside the metal cart of textbooks inside the door, eyes darting around the room. People stared. No one spoke. Who could? She pursed her lips and tapped her foot as Mrs. Stargell continued to write.

"Um, hello?" the girl finally said. She had this low, sultry voice.

Miz S flinched. "Oh. I didn't see you there. Come in."

The girl pranced across the room and handed Mrs. Stargell a slip of paper. Then she headed down the aisle toward me.

Toward me!

I scrambled to stand and offer her my seat, but she slid into Bailey McCall's desk in front of me. She sat up straight.

"Class, we have a new student," Miz S announced. "I'd like you to welcome ..." She glanced at the sheet of paper in her hands. Squinting, she removed her bifocals and let them dangle between her boobs on her neck chain. "Is it ... Xanadu?"

"Wonders never cease," the girl said under her breath. "She can read."

Her long, dark hair flipped over the back of the seat and onto my desk. I had the strongest urge to touch it, stroke it. The color was ... otherworldly. Like roasted mahogany. Like Cherry Coke.

Miz S said, "Come up here and introduce yourself."

The girl - Xanadu? - swiveled in her seat to face me and said, "Didn't she just do that?" Loud enough for the three or four people around us to hear. No one reacted.

I might've smiled. I was still speechless.

"Come on. Don't be shy," Miz S urged.

The girl ignored her. "Is she serious?" Blinking at me. She had these huge, expressive eyes.

"'Fraid so," I managed to croak. And shiny white skin, like porcelain china cups. Her eyes were an unusual color, gray-blue, rimmed with lots of eyeliner and eye shadow. That gorgeous brownishmaroonish hair.

Mrs. Stargell set her piece of chalk in the blackboard tray and brushed her fingers on her flowered dress. "Xanadu, please. Come up here. We won't bite."

She should speak for herself, I thought.

"Shit," Xanadu hissed. Even that didn't evoke a response from the people around us. They just gawked at her. She stood noisily and clomped up the aisle. She was tall, taller than me. Which was no genetic feat, considering I'm probably the shortest person in school. But she was statuesque. At least five ten. A faint scent of perfume settled around Bailey's desk. What was that fragrance? The junk Jamie slathered on after getting stoned? I floated in her fumes.

"Tell us a little bit about yourself," Miz S said, snaking an arm around Xanadu's waist. Xanadu, aka the goddess, had on tight lowrider jeans with a form-fitting, see-through, black lace top. So fine. So very, very fine.

"Like what?" She crossed her arms in front of her, looking embarrassed, self-conscious. Her top rode up a little and my eyes fixed on her belly-button ring.

"Xanadu. That's an interesting name." Miz S's eyes glazed over. She peered off into the middle distance and cleared her throat. Uh-oh, I thought. Here it comes.

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea."

Miz S paused. "I forget the rest. Do you know it?" she asked Xanadu.

"Know what?" Xanadu said flatly.

Miz S opened her mouth, then shut it. She asked, "Were your parents great lovers of Samuel Taylor Coleridge?"

Xanadu stared into Mrs. Stargell's wrinkly face. "Nooo," she drew out the word, "my 'rents were lovers of float. They were meth-heads, obviously amped up on jack when they had me."

During the stunned silence even the dust motes fainted over dead. Xanadu's gaze cruised around the room at all the bulging eyeballs. Was I the only one who saw it? The slight sucking in of her lips? The teasing eyes? I burst into laughter.

Her eyes met mine and she cracked a smile.

The shock on Mrs. Stargell's face didn't help me sober up. She withdrew her hand from Xanadu's waist like human contact with this foreign body might be hazardous to one's health.

No one else was laughing. Why not? They had to have figured it out by now.

"Thank you, Xanadu." Mrs. Stargell's voice chilled. "You may return to your seat."

Xanadu clomped back to Bailey's desk. Flopping down with a huff, she swiveled around again and said, "Is she for real? God help us."

I figured God was doing His part for me today.

* * *

After class, as I was exchanging my math book for my cleats, that same dusky perfume bit my nose. I wheeled around.

"Hi," she said, hugging her books to her chest. Her very fine chest. "I just made that up about my parents, like on the spur of the moment. Can you believe it? I freak under pressure. My parents are so totally straight; they'd die if people thought they were meth-heads. God. I can't believe I actually said that out loud. Can you?"

"No," I admitted.

She smiled. My insides melted.

"Apparently no one else got that I was just blowing her off. Nobody even laughed."

A couple of people passed us in the hall and glanced back over their shoulders, checking her out. I couldn't blame them. We'd never experienced anything like Xanadu at Coalton High.

"I wasn't serious," she said. "Did people think I was serious?" She peered after them, curling a lip.

"No," I said. "They knew. We're not as dumb as we look."

Her eyes swept the floor. "I didn't mean that."

My face burned. "No. Me neither. I knew you knew." Had I offended her? Hurt her feelings?

She raised her eyes to mine and we melded together. I could feel it. Her chest heaved and she expelled an audible sigh. "God." She lowered her chin to her chest. "I am so lost here. So out of my realm."

I'll help you find your realm, I thought. I'll ride you to the castle on a tall white steed and slay every dragon in your path.

"I guess you know my name." She tilted her head up and crossed her eyes at me. "I'm sure the whole school does by now. What's yours?"

"Mike." I cleared my windpipe.

"Mike." She bumped my shoulder with hers. Coy. Flirty. God, give me strength. It was suddenly a hundred and ten degrees in here.

"'Scuse me," I stammered. Setting my cleats back on the shelf, I pulled my sweatshirt over my head and hung it on the hook in my locker. When I turned back, she was staring at me. And not at my face.

"Sorry," she said, her jaw slack. "I ... I thought you were a guy."

"Yeah." I tried to smile, but the smile twisted, like my stomach. "I, uh, get that a lot."


Excerpted from Far from Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters Copyright © 2007 by Julie Anne Peters. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Julie Anne Peters is the critically acclaimed author of Keeping You a Secret, Between Mom and Jo, Define "Normal," and Luna, a National Book Award Finalist.

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Far from Xanadu 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Far from Xanudu is a one sided love story that is narrated by a girl named Mike, who lives in a small Kansas town. She is struggling to understand her sexuality (she knows she's lesbian, but refuses to admit it to anyone with the exception of her gay cheerleader friend, Jamie), when a new girl comes to her school. Her name is Xanudu, and Mike falls head over heels in love. The problem is, the feeling isn't mutual. She slowly becomes more and more obsessed with Xanudu, who is going out with the local southern good boy, Bailey, until finally, she feels she can not live without her. All of this and the fact that it's the two year anniversary of her father's suicide, makes Peters' book an amazing read and overall, a very sad love story with a bittersweet ending. Far From Xanudu is one Of Peters's best works, and I would recomend it to anyone, of any age, who has ever wanted soemone that was just out of their reach.
Ellena Pavese More than 1 year ago
Im so happy that thy have books that can help teens and children understand themselves.... it makes.me feel safer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I give advice to gay, lesbian, and bi people... any questions can be asked on "keeping you a secret" res 1 m-kay? Call me miss understood
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will someone lend me this book? I have been wanting to read it but dont have the money to buy this book...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Does mike get her love at the end? Sorry just curious. I am not allowed to read the book cause Mom said i cannot read it. But i just have to know or else my head will explode.
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This book was my first Julie Ann Peters book, and I absolutely loved it. I read it three years ago, and it truly helped me figure out who I was by relating to the characters in the book. A great coming of age book, detailed, and compassionate. Xanadu is a handful, yet Mike plunges right in, in hopes of finding true love!
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Megan Duvall More than 1 year ago
I cant even describe how great it is to have young lesbian novels out. I enjoy reading books and to have books that appeal to my lifestyle is amazing. i wish there was more like this.
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Marshall Corcoran More than 1 year ago
this is one of my favorie books ever. i couldnt put it down.
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