I spent a large portion of last Thursday tidying up my cubicle, which means shifting piles of ARCS from one shelf to another.* In the shuffle I found There is No Long Distance Now: Very Short Stories by poet and National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye. It was exactly the kind of palette cleanser I was looking for. I cannot gush enough about this book.
Sometimes I don’t have the time to invest in a long novel, but I still need something to read that is satisfying and engaging. The short story is an elusive beast. A good one can take your breath away or make you feel as though you’ve been punched in the stomach. Both happened to me again and again while reading this collection. Nye’s stories touch on grief, ghosts, racism, hope, depression, family, love, teachers, football, and everything in between. Stand-outs include Mailbox, about a girl who sends sympathy cards to her beloved choir director’s widow every Monday for her entire life and Allied with Green, about a girl’s love of all things green, a poetic story that contains one of the best lines I’ve read in awhile: “Tend was a more important verb than most people realize.” How true.
This book ideal for teens who want to be writers. It is a great place to start discussions about creativity, language, and form. Some of the stories are connected, some are not. Some feel very much in the voice of a teenager, others felt wise and poetic. It reminded me a bit of Sandra Cisnero’s wonderful The House on Mango Street. Both books occupy that funny space between YA and adult fiction and celebrate a love of language by skillful writers with a coming-of-age focus. This is the kind of collection I look forward to cracking open again, at which point I will probably find new insights. I desperately want Nye to write a YA novel. A peek at her back list promises other collections, both poetry and short fiction, to treasure. Some of the stories in this particular collection, though complete, felt like teasers for a bigger project. One can only hope that’s what she’s working on now.
There is No Long Distance Now is available in hardcover from Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
*I know, I know. It’s a rough job, but someone has to do it.