ARC Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

title:  If You Find Me

author: Emily Murdoch

pages: 256

format: Kindle, Netgalley ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1250021526

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans Crank by Ellen Hopkins, 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues, or other books dealing with real teen issues.  Lovers of good writing, powerful stories, and deeply explored characters.  Fans of crime shows like Law and Order: SVU.

My Ratings Explained

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.

the basics
Stop back in December; I have a feeling you'll find this one on my top ten books of 2013.  Murdoch's novel richly depicts the most abject horrors a human can experience, and the transformative power of love.  This is no Lifetime original, mind you.  Narrator Carey is as strong-willed as she is abused.  She's been through hell and back, but though there are cracks, she's not broken.  It's a refreshing look at abuse and rape from the perspective of survivorship, showing that the victim may not emerged unchanged, but that they don't have to live marked and destroyed either.  Carey's voice with its "backwoods" accent, Southern colloquialisms, and often poetic inner monologue pulls you violently into a vibrant inner world.  And doesn't let go.  If you don't feel like crying during some point in this story, you're clearly not actually reading it.  

plot . 5/5
I think my main criticism is, "I got to the ending and was mad that it was over and I want more."  Not that I think the ending was mistimed--it was just so good that, like the finale to a great TV series, it left me yearning for more.  You can bet I'll be reading more Murdoch.  The plot begins in the middle, with Carey's father finding them in the woods.  The horrors have already happened.  What we see is how Carey readjusts to life in the outside world--a new family, a new life, comforts like a warm bed and real food that she hasn't had since her mother took her to the woods.  Comforts that her sister never had.  I thought it was a little unrealistic that Carey could not know things like state abbreviations and yet test above her grade level, but I was willing to suspend disbelief.  

Anyway, the plot was well-paced and comfortably combined flashbacks and current scenes.  The reveal of Carey's dark secret didn't come until the end, but there were enough hints early on that it felt like an expected sign of character growth rather than a cheap trick.  Even when it seemed nothing big was happening, I was never bored.  Watching Carey grapple with new experiences and new emotions--including cutie Ryan--was intriguing enough.  And Ryan, the one piece I initially thought could be groan-worthy, actually turned out to be realistic and not insta-romance-y at all.  

concept . 5/5
There are books abounding that deal with children and teens amidst the horrors of abuse and other tragedies.  This book takes it a step further and looks at what happens after.  How do these teens grow once they're removed from the abuse?  How have their struggles made them who they are?  I found it particularly profound how much Carey struggled internally with her redemption, feeling at times blessed and at times undeserving and fearful that it would all go away in an instant.  The focus on survivorship took themes that often seem exploitative, like rape and violence, and explored them in an authentic, deeply moving way.  

characters . 5/5
Carey is instantly lovable.  She's smart, determined, and responsible, with a deep sense of duty towards her younger sister that casts her as both hero and martyr.  But not in a cheap or histrionic way.  She's no Mary-Sue.  She's just a girl who has come through hell and managed to maintain strength and even humor.  Jenessa was for me the one who got a little annoying, but then, I think part of that was seeing her through Carey's eyes.  Nessa was Carey's everything and, as such, was often described as perfect or angelic.  Which is annoying, but says something very important and useful about Carey.  The stepsister, Delaney, surprised me.  I feared Murdoch would go too far into "evil stepsister" territory, but we quickly find that Delaney's snottiness is far from flat.  Then there's Carey's dad.  He appears less than any other main character.  Even Mama, who doesn't factor into any of the present-day scenes, gets more screen time, and is present in both flashbacks and in Carey's way of relating to the world.  Yet dad is quieter and more in the background.  Only he's no less strong for it.  His silence makes him complex; it shows how much he struggles with this transition as much as Carey does, and makes his appearances all the more powerful.  

style . 5/5
Carey's accent is not only a cool viewpoint for the story, but also a great way to show her character.  She begins the first-person tale saying things like a'int and hangin' and using "backwoods" idioms.  When she leaves the woods, she vows to reclaim her g's and to talk like a "normal" person--and we see her voice change.  What her transition shows is not that she wasn't normal before, but that she's rejecting the way Mama talked and becoming more like her new family.  But those idioms are still there, because she hasn't forgotten who she was, even though she's changed in many ways.  Her voice is also beautifully descriptive.  I can't tell you how many lines I highlighted because they were so incisive or gorgeous or profound.  

mechanics . 5/5
Poetry figures throughout and so does music.  Books and violin were Carey's refuge in the woods, and it sticks with her.  She sees the world in musical terms and the poetry she loves filters into her new experiences.  This is best scene during the party scene with Ryan, where Tennyson's "The Lady of Shallott" is quoted at various places to describe, clarify, or add deeper meaning to what's happening outside of her head.  Pooh, Nessa's favorite, is also present in Carey's voice, from quotes to her referring to her home as the Hundred Acre Wood.  It's a cool way to incorporate other literature that doesn't feel overdone.  

take home message
The heartbreakingly beautiful story of what true horror does to the human spirit, and how it can be overcome.  

Note: I received this copy free from Netgalley.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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