"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." (from Goodreads)
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
My reaction: I can't say I liked this book, because it's not an enjoyable one. The mother in If You Find Me is without a doubt one of the most disgusting, deplorable parents I've ever read about. She is absolutely despicable. I can't think of enough awful adjectives to describe her. It's unbelievable what she puts her daughters through, especially Carey (spoiler, highlight to read: forcing her to be sexually abused for money, to pay for the mom's drug addiction). It's the most pathetic, morally devoid thing for her to do.
Spoilers about the end: I actually would have been interested to know how the mom turned out. But I guess that's realistic, that they probably didn't hear from the mom again...I wouldn't be surprised if she went back to her problems.
I wasn't crazy about Carey's voice, but it is very distinctive. She uses a lot of metaphors to life in the woods and nature (everything that's familiar to her). I liked this at first, since it was different, and then I got tired of it partway through, until when I encountered one I'd be thinking, 'oh no, not another metaphor!' But Carey's a likeable narrator — emotionally tough, extremely loyal to her sister (she has a really strong bond with Jenessa and puts her sister first and foremost above everything, which is admirable and really wonderful to see), and very resourceful. She's totally awkward and has trouble trusting people, but that is understandable. Now, there is some crucial information that Carey does not share with the reader until the very end, but since she obviously has psychological issues, I can more or less let this slide (normally I am not a fan of narrators keeping things from the reader).
Best aspect: The first part of the book was really interesting, when they're living in the woods as well as right after they're found, and how Carey's whole life changes and she has to adapt. She misses aspects of life in the woods, which I thought gave her character and the story more depth and complexity, because obviously not everything about the woods was terrible, and not everything about her new life is fantastic.
I also found the end riveting, because Carey finally goes through her whole memory of what happened during the "white-star night" (on a sidenote, I found it annoying how she kept referring to the "white-star night" which was obviously an event in her past that was a big secret, and yet it took the entire book to reveal what it was), and she and her dad have a heart-to-heart talk. I thought their conversation was done quite realistically; it was pretty pitch-perfect in the authenticity of the dialogue, not heading into sappy sweet or melodramatic territory. Spoilers: I thought it was very interesting that she confides all this in her dad; this is sexual abuse, so it might have been something she would have preferred to confide to a woman, like Melissa (a good maternal role model). But her dad is the one that she needs to repair her relationship with, the one she doesn't entirely trust and has been told bad things about – so of course it's really important that they have it out and understand each other better. It was very rewarding as a reader to see that.
Although there's an incident with him that really drives home the impact that her life in the woods has had on her concept of relationships (spoilers: where she tries to get him to touch her in a sexual way, and it's just horrible that because of the way she's been brought up, this is her instinctual move to get a guy to like her.)
If you haven't read it: be warned, this is a depressing book. It's really horrifying what both of the girls go through. There are parts of it that are lighter and less serious, but unfortunately a lot of the "happy" plot points felt a bit unrealistic in the context of the dark, gritty stuff that felt so believable.
If you have read it: what age group would you recommend it for? The protagonist is 14 years old, and the writing style felt to me as though it were MG/young YA-ish. But the maturity of the content and the way it is presented is more suitable for an older audience. And yet I feel like older readers would find some of the storylines (such as the romance) not sophisticated enough, and might get bored in the middle as I did. Since Carey's voice comes off as young sometimes and much older other times, the book seems to be a sort of awkward fit for either age group.
Just one more thing I wanted to mention: I wish we'd had more resolution in the storyline involving Carey's sister. We didn't get to see Jenessa's thoughts/emotions about what she went through. I also wish the plot involving Delaney had been resolved — we never find out what happened!
Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.
Note: There is some mature (sexual and violent) content in this book.