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Goodreads Summary- 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've ever read my blog, you know I and some members of my family struggle with our mental health. We all have the same illness that the mother in this book has- Bipolar Disorder. Generally this colors my opinion of a book, especially when the mother (it's always the mother) is trying to kill her children or is harming them in some way. That's usually the case in books. But in this novel, the mother is a drug addict because she doesn't take medication, she's taking meth to calm the mania down or self medicating and although it makes me hate her, I understand her. And I feel like the author did her homework on Bipolar Disorder. Joelle, the mom is a violinist, a very good one, but she feels that she plays her best when she's off her meds. So she goes off them and then gets crazy and runs away with Carey. They hide in the National Forest seven miles in from a scenic overlook. They live in a trailer without water and electricity and before long the mom has another baby, Jenessa. Carey basically acts as her mother and the two keep each other company between their mother's visits.
Their mother brings food and other essentials to them but sometimes it's very infrequently before she goes off for another stash of meth. The story starts with a social worker and a man finding them in the forest and a very skittish Carey and Jenessa ready to run. But then Carey tries to mind her manners and act civilized and it's cruel watching her lead her guests to a battered metal table with two chairs and two tree stumps with cushions to serve as chairs. They sit and she gets them cups of water from a jug trying so hard to pretend that they've been taught to live like city folk and there is nothing wrong with them. They don't need to leave their normal. And then she reads the letter her mother sent saying she couldn't take care of them anymore and where they were. Mama isn't coming back and she sent the man they ran away from after her.
It is crushing to watch her gather their things in garbage bags and lock that awful trailer up. But it has been home to Carey since she was five and the only home Jenessa has ever known. The trailer and the woods pull her back towards them with every step she takes out of there and she has a harder time adjusting to their new life with plenty of food, a warm bed, hot water and clothes, lots of clothes. Her father is not the man her mother said he was and he is remarried with a step daughter in the same grade Carey is in. Carey is a violin virtuoso. Her mother taught her even under the influence. She also brought them textbooks so both she and Jenessa are smart.
There are a lot of little surprises in the novel, tender moments you don't expect. People that are unexpected. Moments of revelation that horrify and disgust you and will make you need the tissue box more than once. The tears started early for me, unusual for me. By the end I felt like I was dying from all the emotion pouring out. It is not for the faint of heart. Carey is an extremely mature narrator. Sometimes you can feel how much she has turned herself off from the rest of the world so she doesn't have to feel anything. I could almost hear her words in a monotone, the writing is that good.
But then Shorty gets lost. Shorty is the three legged dog that her father rescued. And Jenessa is very attached to Shorty. Jenessa hasn't talked since the night of "the white stars". We don't know what happened but it was life changing, we know that. But Shorty being lost sets off a chain of events that brings Carey out of her shell and allows her to break down her walls and accept her father and her family.
An incredibly powerful novel about resilience, family bonds, love, the devastation of mental illness and the power of truth. There are some graphic scenes and mentions of graphic things in the novel that make this inappropriate for readers under the age of 14. I highly recommend this novel.
I received an e-arc of this novel from the publishers through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review. The opinions expressed are my own.