If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

 

There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

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Many of my latest reads have featured terrible, dysfunctional families, but I think Carey’s mentally ill and drug addicted mother takes the cake. The level of neglect and abuse will break your heart.   From the very first page, we learn of Carey and her younger sister, Janessa’s sad and miserable living situation, consisting of: canned beans, clothes that stink of cat urine, and an abandoned cockroach filled camper in the woods.  But that’s not even the worst part…

Throughout the divided three parts (The End, The Middle, The Beginning), Carey hints at the trauma they’ve endured as the “white-star night”.  It’s not until the last few pages that readers learn what really happened the night Janessa stopped talking.  Warning—this violent scene was really difficult to read.  Despite this, If You Find Me is truly a story of resilience and the power of sisterly bonds. After being discovered by a social worker and Carey’s dad, the sisters are able to overcome unimaginable horror and adjust reasonably well to new life.  There were peaks of happiness and hope that were fully welcomed in this book of dark and traumatic events.

Overall, If You Find Me is a quick 245 page read.  Murdoch hooks the reader in within the first couple paragraphs and takes them on a haunting emotional journey that uniquely explores identity and family. A recommended read.

Book Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins

Summary from Goodreads: After her veterinarian dad dies, sixteen-year-old Iris Wight must leave her beloved Maine to live on a North Carolina farm with her hardbitten aunt and a cousin she barely knows. Iris, a vegetarian and animal lover, immediately clashes with Aunt Sue, who mistreats the livestock, spends Iris’s small inheritance, and thinks nothing of striking Iris for the smallest offense. Things come to a head when Iris sets two young goats free to save them from slaughter, and an enraged Aunt Sue orders her brutish son, Book, to beat Iris senseless – a horrific act that lands Book and his mother in jail. Sent to live with an offbeat foster family and their “dooking” ferrets, Iris must find a way to take care of the animals back at the farm, even if it means confronting Aunt Sue. Powerful and deeply moving, this compelling novel affirms the redemptive power of animals and the resilience of the human spirit.

What Comes After is not a light read. This contemporary young adult novel is a powerful, heartwrenching tale of what can happen when life takes a devastating turn for the worse. I found myself thinking: how much can one girl take? But Iris is no ordinary girl. She is a strong, determined character surprisingly brought to life by a male author.  I had to check the cover several times because Watkins convincingly and effortlessly captures female thoughts and actions.

Even though Aunt Sue and Book are fictional characters, the author based their characters from a real newspaper article. It makes you realize that there are truly evil people out in the world like Aunt Sue, and Book.  I still don’t understand why they would treat Iris the way they did.  However, Aunt Sue and Book were portrayed as the villains early on, and Watkins did a great job at keeping them true to their character throughout the book.

I am a huge animal lover (and vegetarian for 8 years), so I often empathize with animals as much as humans.  This remained true with the goats depicted in the story.  When Book brutally attacks one of Iris’ beloved goats, I found myself reading really fast so it could all be over.   The last time I felt so much heartbreak was reading The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams.  Both stories are character driven, and demonstrate the endurance of human nature.  However, in this story, Iris experiences abandonment by her mother, father, and ultimately, best friend.  When Iris is introduced to the goats, she immediately connects with them and can’t abandon them –no matter the cost.  However, as readers, it’s clear that the animals also give back to Iris by helping to heal her emotional wounds and loving her unconditionally.

In addition to the animals, Iris’ friend Littleberry also aides in her emotional healing and growth. Although Littleberry has possibly the worst name ever, he is able to connect with Iris over their family issues.  I liked how there was just a hint of romance weaved in, but never enough to take away from the main storyline.

Overall, What Comes After is more than a story about a girl and her love of animals. It’s truly about loss, strength and triumph over life challenges.  If you’re ready to break out of your comfort zone, What Comes After is the book for you. 

 

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