Either the Beginning or the End of the World
By Terry Farish
Published by Carolrhoda LAB
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“…a glimpse into the complicated lineage of war-torn areas.” —School & Library Journal, starred review
For sixteen years, it’s been just Sofie and her father, living on the New Hampshire coast. Her Cambodian immigrant mother has floated in and out of her life, leaving Sofie with a fierce bitterness toward her—and a longing she wishes she could outgrow.
To me she is as unreliable as the wind.
Then she meets Luke, an Army medic back from Afghanistan, and the pull between them is as strong as the current of the rushing Piscataqua River. But Luke is still plagued by the trauma of war, as if he’s lost with the ghosts in his past. Sofie’s dad orders her to stay away; it may be the first time she has ever disobeyed him.
A ghost can’t love you.
When Sofie is forced to stay with her mother and grandmother while her dad’s away, she is confronted with their memories of the ruthless Khmer Rouge, a war-torn countryside, and deeds of heartbreaking human devotion.
I don’t want you for ancestors. I don’t want that story.
As Sofie and Luke navigate a forbidden landscape, they discover they both have their secrets, their scars, their wars. Together, they are dangerous. Together, they’ll discover what extraordinary acts love can demand.
Reviews & Accolades
“New Hampshire. For as long as she can remember, it’s been just the two of them, making ends meet the best they can. An early closure of the shrimping season forces her father down south to the Chincoteague, but not before he unequivocally warns Sofie not to see Luke, a volatile deckhand returned from duty as a medic in Afghanistan. With her father gone, her long-absent mother and grandmother move in to take his place. She grudgingly begins to learn more about their life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and though she doesn’t want their history for her own, she slowly realizes that she may not have a choice. Meanwhile, she finds herself quickly consumed by the pull of Luke. Poetic, spare, and sometimes near stream of consciousness, Farish’s writing is haunting. She paints broad strokes and excels at setting a tone that pervades every word and action. The sexual tension between Sofie and Luke is palpable. Beautifully written and briskly paced, the sparse prose evokes the rugged, bleak landscape, the simplicity of Sofie’s former life with her Dad, and the immediate, unspoken union between her and Luke. VERDICT An excellent choice for readers seeking a less than neatly packaged love story or a glimpse into the complicated lineage of war-torn areas.” —School & Library Journal, starred review
“In New Hampshire, a 17-year-old Cambodian-American girl falls for a mysterious military medic in this poetically rendered novel by the author of The Good Braider (2012). Most people would dial 911 if they saw a lone figure with a gun standing on a broken pier near icy, rushing water. But instead, Sofie Grear calls out to Lucas, a National Guard medic who served in Afghanistan. Their chance encounter leads to a romance that must be kept secret, because Lucas is 22. Along with a new boyfriend who seems to be suffering from PTSD, Sofie is also worried about her white fisherman father’s struggling business. He must leave home for fresh fishing grounds, leaving Sofie in the care of her estranged Cambodian mother, who is pregnant with another man’s child. For Sofie, who insists “I am not Cambodian…I have no ancestors. I have no mother. I make myself from scratch every day,” this is a terrible betrayal. But once her mother and grandmother move in and share their history, which dates back to the tyrannical rule of the Khmer Rouge, Sofie discovers that stories from her past are helpful in solving the problems of her present. Though the characterization is uneven (Lucas is a cipher, while Sophie’s no-nonsense grandmother steals every scene she is in), Farish spins an atmospheric plot with lyrical language. Readers willing to take their time will enjoy this earnest cross-cultural meditation on love and family.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Though technically not a verse novel like The Good Braider (2012), Farish’s new novel, a bittersweet love story between a fisherman’s teenage daughter and a soldier returned from Afghanistan, reads like a series of connected prose poems rather than a straightforward narrative. Sixteen-year-old Sofie knows the ins and outs of the fishing business in their coastal New Hampshire town, and her father is about to go under. While he takes his boat south to find a better winter catch, Sofie’s estranged Cambodian mother and grandmother arrive to stay with her instead. Resentful of their intrusion and unsettled by stories of her Cambodian family, inextricably tied to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Sophie spends more time with gentle, enigmatic Luke, a young army medic. They fall in love despite being aware that it cannot last. Luke, suffering from PTSD, hasn’t yet found his way back from the war. With evocative language and imagery, and a wandering, internal narrative, this quiet novel examines the intersections of love and war in a family’s history.” —Booklist
Author Cultural Research
Explore Terry Farish’s research for this novel here.
Author Terry Farish maintains a resource-rich blog on the groups represented in the novel here.
Download a Discussion Guide here.