Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

…poignant story, told in free verse, of eleven-year-old Jett. Last year, Jett and his mother had moved to a new town for a fresh start after his father went to jail. But Jett soon learned that fresh starts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When he befriended a boy with a difficult home life, Jett found himself in a cycle of bad decisions that culminated in the betrayal of a friend – a shameful secret he still hasn’t forgiven himself for. Will a summer spent with his unconventional grandmother help Jett find his way to redemption?

ebbIt’s clear to see how Smith’s east coast roots have inspired this heartbreaking middle grade read.  It brought me back to my many visits to Nova Scotia and hunting for sea glass.

Told in poetic form, I read about Jett’s “rotten bad year” in one sitting. I admired how sparsely-worded pages were able to cover such a wide range of serious topics: bullying, incarceration, abuse, and more. There were so many beautiful passages that I had to restrain myself from dog-earring all the pages. As a librarian, I especially loved the passage:

I said,

I only read comics.

She said,

What’s a comic if it’s not a book?

Jett’s betrayal slowly unfolds and his courage and responsibility ultimately turn this sad story into one of forgiveness and hope. Ebb & Flow has such a powerful impact that it may take some readers some time to fully process the story.

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.

if you finddd

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.

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