Note: All of this is coming from my cis perspective. I can only do the best that I know how to do, but if you are a trans individual who disagrees with my perspective, or if you have an own-voice review for this book, please let me know in the comments and I would love to help boost your voice!
There are some minor spoilers ahead, because I couldn’t discuss all of the problems I had with this book without them.
Content warnings: suicide, self harm, abuse, transphobia, mental illness, homophobia, pedophilia.
Miles Away From You tells the story of Miles, who is grieving the loss of his girlfriend, Vivian, after she attempted suicide. He documents his grief, as well as his attempt at healing via a summer trip to Iceland, through instant messages to Vivian’s abandoned social media account. She’s been on life support for a year and a half, and Miles’ greatest frustration is the fact that he wants her to be taken off of life support and allowed to rest; meanwhile, her religious, transphobic parents refuse to pull the plug.
Off the bat, the book struggles from White Savior Complex: Miles and his accepting, lovely mothers are all white, while Vivian’s transphobic, abusive parents are black. Vivian and her parents are the only characters of color in a book saturated with white people. (While Miles does let us know that he’s got a small fraction of Cherokee heritage, it’s made pretty evident that he is, for all intents and purpose, white-passing.)
On top of that, Vivian herself is not presented as a likable character. There’s actually a line in the book where Miles is “talking” to Vivian and says that she constantly did scary or cruel things to shock him, just so she could be sure he cared. This is emotional abuse, and while it’s brought up very quickly, it is never addressed, and our trans character is not painted in a good light at all.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the story is less about Miles’ grief, and more about his adventures in Iceland and his determination to get laid. He’s pan/demi, but spend most of the book pursuing sex with women in a manner, and with a mindset, that felt really objectifying and gross. All of the women in this story, besides his mother and Vivian, seem to only exist to serve Miles’ sexual fantasies. He does eventually pursue a meaningful relationship with a gay man, and the love interest’s character was the only genuinely enjoyable part of the story for me.
The LI is surprisingly three-dimensional: we meet his family (including his abusive and homophobic father), and watch him overcome an abusive and controlling relationship with a pedophile. (Of course, one of the only TWO gay men in this book is a pedophile, so there’s also some furthering of that trash stereotype.) The moments we spent with this character were the only times I was able to connect to the story, though even those exchanges were typically laced with annoyance. Miles felt the need to endlessly make fun of the love interest, whether it was out loud or in his own head (remarks about the man’s appearance, style, hair, accent, etc.). All of this grew old fast, when coupled with Miles’ seeming disregard for Icelandic culture and customs in general (most of which were not painted in a very kind light – are you seeing a theme?).
Finally, one of the biggest issues I had with this book: Vivian’s incredibly slow, drawn-out death. Her suicide is a vehicle for Miles’ story, rather than being depicted as the genuine tragedy it is. When she finally passed away, her parents dead-named her headstone, and it was such a low blow! The thought of an unsuspecting trans kid picking this book up and reading this feels so bad to me, and makes me wish I could keep this story from ever hurting anyone. If it felt this bad to me, as a cis person with cis privileges, I can’t fathom how harmful Miles Away From You could be for a trans individual.
Thank you to HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review!