Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch


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 the girls are found by their father, a stranger, and taken to re-enter the "normal" life of school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must come to terms with the truth of why their mother spirited them away 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.

I think I need to reconsider one of my pet peeves.

After you read around in a genre, you start to develop your tastes. You learn to decipher tricky synopsises and read the codes to find the stories you would like, and you also learn about your own pet peeves. One of mine, as it turned out, is cutesy child characters. Namely, cutesy child characters that serve little purpose outside of motivation for the protagonist and a magnet for our sympathy. I despise poorly done characters as a rule, but it’s even worse when you throw little kids in the mix. Nine times out of ten, they’re not even given a proper character.

This book… changes things somewhat.

I don’t know why, exactly. Carey and Janessa’s relationship is very much like that of Katniss and Prim from “The Hunger Games” - sisters forced to grow up, one who managed to turn into a surrogate parent and one that couldn’t take the transformation. Theirs is a relationship build in isolation, one that is rooted much deeper than most sibling bonds, both sweet and a tiny bit dysfunctional.

In the wrong hands, such a set-up could have turned disastrously, but Emily Murdoch balances things out with a heavy dose of real world truth in her narrative. She explores the dynamics of this kind of relationship by juxtaposing them with the outside world and what a relatively normal family looks like, and by doing so, she gives her characters an opportunity to evolve past their basic type.

Basically, if you’re looking for a way to write sibling relationship, this would be a good place to start.

Also, I don’t usually mention the writing, but here, it was particularly striking. Lyrical, occasionally haunting, but never romanticising or downplaying an important moment. It suits Carey’s voice, conveying the atmosphere of the book - a state between dream and reality, where one isn’t sure where they’re awake or still sleeping.

I wonder, in the darkest puzzle piece of my heart, if he’d say those words if he knew, really knew, about the white star night.
Janessa would never tell. It had sucked the words right out of her.
- Emily Murdoch, “If You Find Me”, e-galley, page 104

In case you’re wondering, this book isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. But it handles its subject matter (all of its subject matter) with care and respect, which makes it possible for the reader to immerse themselves in the story.

Actually, if there’s one false note in the whole of this, it would probably be the romantic subplot with Ryan. Though I understand the importance of it, I feel it stretched a little too far, and added just a little too much to the overall story. There’s a lot of love in this book, many different kinds of it, and I don’t think it would have hurt to leave Ryan and Carey’s relationship on a more ambiguous note.

Still, that’s just a minor nit-pick. I do believe this is a wonderful book, though, so if you can, definitely give it a read.

Releases March 26th from St. Martin’s Press.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.

Note: Image and synopsis via Goodreads.