Coming soon from Phil Stamper is a story about chasing your dreams, no matter how far away from home they may take you. In his sophomore novel As Far as You’ll Take Me, Stamper invites readers to travel to London with his protagonist, Marty. Armed with his oboe and some savings, Marty is ready to embark on a journey towards becoming a professional musician. However, things don’t go quite as he planned. After meeting, befriending, and eventually dating a boy named Pierce, Marty begins to lose sight of why he went to London in the first place, wondering what “home” really means.
One of the first aspects that stood out to me is how Stamper incorporates being a musician, which is, of course, a major point of the story. But Stamper’s own experience shines through with every page. It’s not difficult to tell that the person behind the story holds a deep understanding of what he writes. As a former band kid myself, I think Stamper really nails this – the feeling of playing with a group, the disappointment that follows an audition that doesn’t go quite as you planned, and even the never-ending battle with a reed (which any reed instrument player can attest to).
Stamper also does a wonderful job creating complex and dynamic characters, beginning with those around Marty. He clearly delineates the differences between Marty’s Kentucky friends (Megan and Skye) and those he makes in London. While Megan and Skye were more or less good friends to Marty, it was interesting to read how the friend dynamics shifted for him as he befriended fellow musicians in London, giving him the space he needed to thrive (Sophie is one I found particularly captivating). Next, we have one of the main players – Pierce, who isn’t quite what he seems. He’s a character who will bounce readers back and forth between liking him and not. Writing Pierce as a character who isn’t so straightforward works in Stamper’s favor. Finally, the story’s protagonist – Marty. Readers are provided the chance to really step inside his mind. Stamper writes with an empathetic viewpoint that helps readers understand Marty and also provides a certain comfort for those who see themselves in Marty. He’s not without his flaws, reminding readers that’s only human. However, he acknowledges his flaws and struggles and actively works to overcome them, even if it’s only tiny steps at first.
As Far as You’ll Take Me is an engaging and intensely relatable story about finding your path and following it as far as you can. Stamper is able to craft a world that both caters to a niche audience and offers takeaways that any reader can benefit from. He writes with colorful details that will keep readers immersed in the story. The characters are dynamic and compelling, and readers will want to learn more about them even after the book has ended. Stamper perfectly captures the overwhelming feelings moving from a small town to large, bustling city creates, as well the excitement that accompanies it. Marty’s story is a captivating one, told with authenticity and heart; it’s certainly a journey worth taking.
As Far as You’ll Take Me releases on February 9. Pre-order your copy here.