ARC Review + Interview: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home–perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

  • Title: As Far as You’ll Take Me
  • Author: Phil Stamper
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury YA 
  • Genre: Own-voices, LGBTQ+, Contemporary, YA, Coming of Age
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Trigger warnings: Anxiety, eating disorder, religion (Christianity), homophobia, outing, f-slur, panic attacks
  • Rating: ★★★★★

When seventeen-year-old Marty fails an audition for a prestigious music summer program — his one shot to escape Avery, Kentucky and his religious parents for the summer —  he decides to take the chance of a lifetime. His plan? To book a one-way trip, crash at his cousin Shane’s apartment for the summer, and figure it out from there. In London, armed with nothing but a suitcase, his oboe, and dwindling finances, Marty must learn who he is outside of his rural Kentucky persona. But starting completely over in a new country isn’t all that easy — Luckily, Marty’s immersion process is fast-tracked from the get-go, after Shane’s cute friend Pierce picks him up from the airport, and throws Marty into their friend group. Is everything all it’s chalked up to be? As Far As You’ll Take Me is a contemporary YA novel about discovering one’s self-identity, grappling with mental health, and what the meaning of family truly is. 

I won’t lie — Marty’s decision to move to another country, while lying to his parents and having no back up plan stressed me out to the point where I had to put the book down. But Marty’s story and Phil Stamper’s writing had hooked me from the beginning, and so I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away for long.

“There’s only one thing that can offer security: me. If I can make my own decisions, if I follow my own path and still find a way to let others in along the way,  I’ll be protected from this.” 

Stemper tackles many important issues in As Far As You’ll Take Me; all of which I think were handled well. Marty’s eating disorder, relationship with religion and his parents, toxic friendships and relationships, and anxieties made him a very real character to me. I’ve met many Marty’s in my lifetime. I’ve been Marty — minus the lying to my parents and moving to another country alone bit. It was all too easy to see and to understand why he made the choices he did, and Marty was a character you couldn’t help but root for. Something Marty said in an earlier chapter really stuck with me — “I’m not the protagonist of anyone’s story”. Except, he is. He’s the protagonist of his own story, and watching him learn and grow and understand that was a joy. 

By including Marty’s journal entries from a year ago, I was able to better understand Marty’s decision to move and empathize with Marty even more. I got to watch the pieces click into place, and unfold, and I loved the role that the journal played in Marty’s story. Most importantly, I loved watching Marty stand up for himself. More times than one, I held my breath alongside Marty’s, and desperately hoped everything would turn out alright.

As Far As You’ll Take Me is filled with fascinating side characters that I wanted to know more about, but was satisfied with what we knew of them. Sophie, Shane, Sang — I would lay down my life for them all. While side characters, they felt incredibly real, and it warmed my heart to see Marty have such good friends he could count on. Just like in real life, sometimes we need to rely on those around us to provide other perspectives and to take care of us, and Marty was no different. I absolutely loved As Far As You’ll Take Me, and the message it sends.

I also got to ask author Phil Stamper a few questions about As Far As You’ll Take Me! Without further ado, here they are: 

Hi Phil! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! What gave you the idea to write As Far As You’ll Take Me?

I took a lot of inspiration from my own life while writing As Far As You’ll Take Me, which is why it’s such a personal story to me. As a queer teen, I always felt like I needed to escape my conservative rural village, and I was able to do that in college, studying music, falling into a group of wonderful and accepting friends who became family. 

But even though I could finally be myself for the first time, I really had to come to terms with my anxiety, I fell in love with the wrong guys, and I struggled with a ton of body image issues. I lived in London for a while, which is what inspired the setting. So, putting all of that together, I was able to fictionalize a lot of my own experiences and bring them into the dazzling environment in London and across various European travels. 

If you had to pick an album that describes Marty’s life, what would it be?

I’d pick “Sing to Me Instead” by Ben Platt. The songs perfectly capture the highs and lows of love, especially when it comes to falling in love with people who aren’t perfectly right for you. In this album, Platt openly discusses his experience with anxiety and finding a home in someone else, and that’s something Marty would really identify with as he’s figuring out exactly who he is. 

What’s the main thing you hope readers will take away from As Far As You’ll Take Me?

I’d like readers to come away from As Far As You’ll Take Me with the idea that even if things don’t go exactly the way you planned, there’s still a lot of joy and hope to be found in the act of figuring things out along the way. Sadly, Marty’s story is a lot more realistic for queer youth than Cal’s (the main character from The Gravity of Us)—so often growing up queer can make you feel isolated, confused, and so desperate for the love and support you truly deserve, and that can blur your judgment. But that’s okay. So many of us have gone through it and come out the other side, and I hope all readers (but especially queer teens) won’t be so hard on themselves after reading this book.

Links for As Far as You’ll Take MeGoodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indie Bound | Preorder Campaign

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. While it could be seen as a boring lifestyle to some, he kept himself entertained through playing the piano and writing stories that stretched his imagination. He has a B.A. in Music from the University of Dayton and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing from Kingston University. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt.

When he first left his home state, he landed in Washington, DC with no job prospects, $800 in graduation money, and the promise of a walk-in closet to live in. Not long after—and he’s not totally sure how—he was jumping headfirst into a career in non-profit PR and sleeping in a real bed. He loved writing for a living, even if he was writing press releases and news stories… and hundreds of emails to annoyed journalists. But after a while, the dry writing started to get to him, so he thought he’d finally work on that book he always wanted to write…

Years later, with a new degree and two new cities under his belt, he works in publishing development for a major book publisher in New York City. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. That book he always wanted to write never sold, and neither did the second or third. But at the intersection of hard work, talent, and luck, his best selling debut novel, TheGravity of Us, was first published by Bloomsbury YA in February 2020. His sophomore novel, As Far As You’ll Take Me, comes out February 2021.

Follow Phil: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

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3 thoughts on “ARC Review + Interview: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

  1. This was a great review and interview!! I really enjoyed the book as well, it was really wonderful to read about Marty coming into his own and standing up for himself 💛

    Like

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