Title: If You Find Me
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: March 26, 2013
St. Martins Griffin
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher
My sister don’t talk much. When she does, it’s only to me, in moth-winged whispers, and only when we’re alone.
There are few things more contrary to nature than abandoning your children. Basic instinct assures that most animals protect their young, so the idea of thinking, reasoning human parents neglecting or abusing their children is a violently offensive one.
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a stunning debut that explores the consequences of child neglect. 15-year-old Carey’s mother is mentally ill, and a drug user who comes and goes without any accountability. She’s hidden Carey and her younger sister away in a national forest in Tennessee for over ten years, and the girls know nothing of the outside world until she finally disappears for good. Carey and Jenessa then have to adjust to a new life when they go to live with their father, a man they don’t remember at all and can’t help but fear.
Reading about the instability of the girls’ life in the woods is a wrenching experience, even though it’s related mostly in retrospect as Carey recalls her past. It’s hard to read about children who survive on a dwindling supply of canned beans, and whose want for simple warmth and shelter and companionship is something they don’t even miss or comprehend, because it’s the only way of life they’ve known.
What hits home the most, however, is that there is a great deal of beauty in the way Carey sees the world in spite of her upbringing. She misses the woodsmoke that clung to her clothes and hair, she knows her sister needs her pathetic, dirty books and toys to make their father’s house feel like a home; and the woods still call to her, even as she marvels over the simple joys of owning a coat that doesn’t smell of pee, having real food to eat, or being blessedly clean. That longing for what’s familiar in spite of what logic might dictate is such a painfully human truth, and it’s one of many honest revelations that felt gut-wrenchingly real.
I do think that a few things could have been more polished to make this story stronger: restructuring and streamlining of some of the plot, particularly in the use of flashbacks and sudden info-dumping; less reliance on quotes as a jumping point for discussion, particularly later in the book; and a closer eye kept on some repetitive words and phrases.
But the heart of this book is beautiful. There is poetic soul beneath the rough edges of backwoods dialect and unpolished story, and the honesty in the book’s emotional journey shines through even when Carey is angry or scared. And while the ending may have felt a little too neat in some ways, there is redemptive and truthful quality to this girl’s story that I respond to strongly. After all those years of living in awful circumstances, Carey’s physical well-being is finally assured–but the truth is, none of us are whole until our hearts are mended.
If You Find Me is a story full of heartbreak and hope, as well as brutal and beautiful feeling. It’s a testament to both the fragility and overwhelming power of hope–and to how some things, even horrific, dehumanizing things–can be soothed by nothing more than simple human kindness.
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Warning: triggers for violent and abusive behavior. Recommended for adults and mature YA readers only, particularly those who might’ve been drawn to Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl.
Please join us next week, when the official If You Find Me Blog Tour begins!
We have a fantastic line-up of exclusive interviews, excerpts, and guest posts for you hosted by some wonderful bloggers. Each stop will also provide an opportunity for you to win a copy of this beautiful book as well, so be sure to follow along with the tour.