Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ARC Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013

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.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Lately I've been in a weird pattern when it comes to books; It seems that almost every book I've picked up recently has been really slow to start.  I can't tell you how many books I have on my nightstand that are set aside 1/3 of the way in because I wasn't feeling the pull that I like to feel. (Actually, I can... That number is eight.)  Although the slow starters that I have been able to finish have ended up being very good, I think I will always prefer the early hook.  I am attentionally challenged, and if there isn't something to grab me early on, I lose patience.  I'm sure I miss out on a great number of amazing books because of this, but I also think that gives me an advantage when reviewing books that target the teen audience, because teens are very instant-gratification oriented.  But we can save all that for another post.  My point here is that I think If You Find Me has gotten me out of that slow-to-start funk.  I was drawn into this book from the very first chapter, and it did not let me go until the final page.  In fact, If You Find Me still hasn't let me go.  It is a story that is as happy as it is heartbreaking, and I found myself experiencing a broader range of emotions in 256 pages than I ever thought possible.  Fear, joy, anger, excitement, heartbreak, love, loss, happiness, grief, inspiration, disgust, optimism, melancholy.  And that list doesn't even come close to covering them all...

The story begins with Carey and Nessa fending for themselves, living in a camper, deep in the Obed Wild & Scenic River National Park, waiting for their meth-addicted mother to return from a trip to the  nearest town to get supplies.  Carey is full of worry because it has been over a month since she left, and they are running low on food.  It's not their mother who comes to their rescue, though.  It's a social worker and Carey's father, the man their mother kidnapped Carey from, ten years prior.  Carey has only vague memories of life before the woods, and Nessa knows nothing else.  The girls are taken from the only life they know, harsh as it had was, to a modern world, overnight.  They go to live with their father, his wife, and her daughter, and although these changes are all for the better, Carey is as fragile as she's ever been.  She has deep, painful secrets, physical and emotional scars, and a great deal of internal conflict.  She knows the changes she and her sister are going through are best, especially for six year-old Nessa, but she doesn't know how to trust that it isn't all a dream- a rug ready to be pulled out from under them.  Her story is an intense emotional rollercoaster, as debut author Emily Murdoch deftly alternates her present situation with her memories of life in the woods- the good ones and the horrifying- in a voice that made Carey seem so real and vulnerable;  This book read more like a memoir than it did fiction.  If You Find Me touched me deeply, as I felt every one of Carey's emotions to my core.

This was very much Carey's story, but she wasn't the only phenomenally drawn character.  Nessa was amazing as well.  She was a picture of the resiliency of small children, and it brought me a tremendous amount of joy to see her grow as a result of the love that surrounded her, after having such a harrowing start to her life.  It was wonderful to see that growth through Carey's eyes, because in reality, Carey was the the mother that Joelle, their biological mother, never was.  I adored Melissa, their stepmother, who went well above and beyond, and as a side note, I thought it was great to see a stepmother portrayed in a positive light.  Carey's father was a character that took me some time to warm to.  I had a great amount of admiration for him because of the fact that he never treated Nessa any differently than he did Carey, despite the fact that she wasn't his, but otherwise, I was unsure of him because I was viewing him through Carey's eyes, and she only had the lies her mother had told her of him to go on.  Initially he was rather closed off, but as he opened himself up, it became clear that he was the way he was was because of the uncertainty he endured for so many years.  As a parent, I can't even imagine being in his shoes.  What I liked best about his portrayal was that much of what we learned about him came from the snipes and jabs that seemingly self-absorbed stepdaughter Delaney threw out from time to time.  And speaking of Delaney...  She was such an important character, and although she was so unlikeable much of the time, I thought Emily Murdoch did a flawless job making sure that the reader understood why she was the way she was. In the end, I was almost as sympathetic toward her as I was toward Carey and Nessa, because although her life was a cake-walk compared to theirs, she had to endure her own feelings of inadequacy in the shadow of the kidnapped (and then found) daughter, and that could not have been easy.  Finally, there was Ryan.  I don't want to spoil, so I won't say much about him, but his character was great, and a perfect addition to Carey's story.

If You Find Me is hands-down, one of the best books of this nature that I have ever read.  It is a heartbreaking story that ends with a message of hope.  Although I would love to know more about what Carey's future holds, I feel like I got proper closure to this chapter of her life.  One thing I know for sure is that I will be on the lookout for more of Emily Murdoch's writing, because she has talent I have a good feeling will endure.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is a tough one.  First I want to say that I think there is great crossover appeal to the adult market, as I know many adults (non-YA readers) who would like this book.  There are somewhat graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse, prostitution, and sexual assault of children.  Carey endured horrible things, much of the time with the knowledge that if she didn't do them, Nessa would have to.  That said, I think that this book has a very positive message of hope and the possibility of overcoming any obstacle.  If I had to make a blanket statement, based on content, I would say this book is for ages 15 and older (grades 10 and up), but I would also encourage the evaluation of each reader as an individual, because I feel like many younger students would have the maturity to handle the graphic parts of the story.  I am able to say this; This book is not appropriate for anyone younger than 8th or 9th grade.

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