The Center of Everything is an engaging, intelligent first novel, written in forthright prose studded with moments of poetry. Moriarty's depiction of young Evelyn is intriguing and engaging; the author has created in her a winsome, acutely observant young girl.
When we first meet Evelyn, she is 10 years old and exasperated with her single mother Tina, a loving woman who cannot seem to keep a job and is dating a married man, to boot. It quickly becomes clear that Evelyn often acts as the adult in this relationship, and she grows into a studious, serious teenager who doesn't quite fit in with her classmates. Her struggles to find her place in school, in her family, in the world, are sympathetically and realistically depicted. Evelyn possesses wisdom of the beyond-her-years ilk, but she is still a child and encounters the disappointments and feelings of failure that accompany the universal Adolescent Experience.
There is, of course, a compelling subset of literature comprised of books that feature a prematurely adult child as the central character. The Center of Everything joins the ranks of those who get it right, because Moriarty is not afraid to make Evelyn fallible. For example, we feel for Evelyn as she naively continues to hope that her friend Travis will return her love, even when it is plain he has fallen for her pretty friend, Deena. And we cheer for Evelyn when, years later, she painfully yet resolutely puts Travis off and informs him that he has chosen the future with Deena he is now trying to avoid.
The moments when Moriarty's characters find comfort and beauty in their lives are marked by a lyricism that is woven throughout The Center of Everything. Evelyn's place at the center of everything is, at the outset, both geographical (she lives in the center of Kansas, in the center of the United States) and emotional she feels overwhelmed, seemingly the hub of the activities of her friends, family and schoolmates. As Evelyn matures, we realize along with her that sometimes, being central to others' lives can be an honor, a source of comfort and confidence we can carry with us as we venture beyond the center of our own small universes.
Linda Castellitto writes from Rhode Island.