*ARC from NetGalley-much thanks!
Published: March 26 2013 (I have an ARC-I reviewed this in December 2012 and was asked to hold off the blog post until April 2013)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Website: Author Website
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Website: Author Website
Carey and Janessa live in the woods with their mother in a camper, removed from society. Their mother is a meth addict and leaves for several weeks at a time, forcing Carey to care for Janessa, who is a selective mute. One day, when their mother has been gone far too long, a social worker and their father come to retrieve them. They do not know this man aside from what their mother has told them-that she had to take them away from him because he was abusive. But unless Carey and Janessa want to be separated in different foster homes, they have to go with him.
These forest children move in with their father, their step-mother, and step-sister. It is a difficult adjustment for them. There is an abundance of food, shelter, and clothes, yet Carey is torn with her feelings towards her Mama. She thinks that their mother tried her best to take care of her children. Underneath her independent and strong exterior, Carey harbours dark secrets about their past that haunts her and keeps Ness mute.
I really enjoyed how this book has such an even flow. This book isn’t about making your heart race. It’s about making your heart break. There are no adrenaline-pumping moments. It’s real. They are retrieved, taken to their new house, they meet their new family, go to school, meet people, etc. No lulls in pace or rushed moments.
Admittedly, I tend to gravitate towards the paranormal, or at least the unusual. Girls who lived in the woods with a meth head mother come to the “civilized” world as we know it is unusual. But no one is tossing around magical powers, meeting supernatural beings, solving murders, saving the country, what have you. When I finished the book my mind constantly went back to the moments when you read the words on the page and you feel the words that are not on the page. What is implied as opposed to what is just given to us. It’s like the dark-the scariest part of it is what you cannot see. You feel it is there, and that ever so slight hint makes our stomachs fall to the floor.
During reading, you’ll come across passages that are in italics. This signals that Carey is remembering something. This isn’t a new technique that Murdoch has invented. This happens a lot in literature. For years I have been hearing that this confuses people because it switches the scene. I suggest if this is a gripe for you, you actively seek titles that employ this and get the hang of it. It’s almost like multitasking, but easier.
Unlike Wake and Lullaby, the protagonist is unique. Her upbringing has given her what most people would call a backwater accent or manner of speaking. She says “ain’t” and drops her “g”s when she’s not careful. This might be annoying to some people, but I don’t mind tasteful dialect usage (i.e. even when it is unfamiliar to me, at the thickest I can still tell what’s going on).Carey is strong, independent, and an excellent caregiver to her little sister (given their circumstances). To foster her sister’s independence and acceptance of their new life, she tries not to baby her. I found it remarkable that she could let other people take care of Ness, but Ness isn’t really her sole responsibility. Carey is very mature, but she is also a teenager with her separate responsibilities. I love the quirks that we get to see inside of her POV, like how she thinks hamburgers are handburgers and how she prays to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Beans.
I thoroughly applaud the author for writing a child who acts like a child. I find too often that authors write children as short adults. Children have their own mannerisms and behaviours and are not adults. Ness has her own set of emotional problems, causing her to only speak to Carey when no one else is around. She eats “real” food too fast and becomes sick, throws a tiny fits when she’s scolded, is basically physically attached to Carey for most of their new experiences, and instantly claims the dog. I think a favourite “warm and fuzzy” moment for me was her pictures that she draws. Adorable.
I see that this book has received a little criticism for how smart the two girls are. I really do not see anything to complain about. People-children, teens, and adults-self-educate and teach each other all the time. It’s not like Carey did not know the basics when she went into the woods. Their books include works of Emily Dickinson, Tagore, Tennyson, and Wordsworth. They had biology books. Supplement this with a dictionary for words and concepts they don’t understand, and you’ll likely get someone who is smarter than others in their age group. In the woods, once done with the basic survival and chore duties, they would probably do activities that educate themselves. This book makes it clear that Carey might be misplaced in the “civilized world”, but she knows the woods in and out. She can name plants, trees, insects, and animals, and do other basic survival tasks like hunt (hey Katniss!).They weren’t watching television like we do now. They were reading and being read to. You don’t need a registered teacher to hover over your shoulder to be motivated to teach yourself. If I didn’t teach myself outside of the public school system I would probably have the IQ of a tulip.
VerdictThis is an awesome book. I highly recommend it. It might be a little too dark for some people. The book treats the uncomfortable matter of child abuse in a way that it is not “in your face” or overly detailed or overly dramatized. Since it is written from Carey’s POV, you only get what she is willing to think about. It’s about girls with a difficult past trying to cope with an entirely new life. It is sad; if you have even a shred of emotional intelligence it will make you sad too. There are readers that don’t want to feel sad at all, and I respect that, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who hate books with depressing themes. Personally, I think it is an alright choice for a teen book club as long as you understand the emotional intelligence of the teens you are dealing with. Also best to have a feel for their parents too just in case there is a parent or two who want to believe that the world is all rainbows and unicorns. And be ready to talk about the book and the dark themes. If you’re not ready to talk about the details of this book, pick something that you’re comfortable with.