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 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.
Carey and her younger sister, Jenessa, live hidden away deep in the far reaches of a national forest in Tennessee. Their only shelter is a dilapidated camper and their only real guardian, a mentally unstable, meth-addicted mother who abandons them for long, seemingly endless stretches of time. It’s Carey who is their strength and their ultimate means of survival, and though the horrors and secrets run deep, the girls forge through, day by day, together.
One day they’re discovered by a social worker and their father, a man who –according to their mom–was violent and uncaring. The girls learn that their mother has left them for good this time, leaving the state to step in and give custody to their dad. They’re suddenly immersed in a world Carey only faintly remembers, one with plumbing, clean water, plenty of food and the opportunity to go to school. This transition is a welcome change, but it isn’t easy. It’s hard to let go of the only life the girls have ever known. For Jenessa it’s easier, but for Carey, who has only ever worried about looking out for her baby sister,the transition is far more painful. She remember those horrible stories her mom used to tell her about their dad. She’s not sure she can trust him, but she knows that wherever Jenessa goes she’ll be by her side.
Even with all of the good, positive changes in their lives, the girls are haunted by a secret from the woods, a thing so dark and terrible it caused Jenessa to become mute and Carey to live in constant guilt and fear. As their life begins to take shape and resemble something normal, this secret looms, and Carey fears it will cause everything they’ve gained to crumble around them.
This book is absolutely mesmerizing. It’s one of those stories that takes hold of your heart within the first few pages. Maybe it’s the mom in me, maybe it’s just the graceful prose, but I was gripped instantly by these girls, by their harrowing experiences and by this intense, pure love they shared. Their story is mainly about adjusting to their new home, to finding a sense of family outside of the two of them, but it’s interspersed with flashbacks of a life with a drug- addled mom, so sickened by addiction and mental problems that she’d use her daughters in unspeakable, tragic ways.
There are so many moments in this story that hurt to read, so many that are painful to imagine, and yet I was blown away by the beautiful bonds of love so perfectly conveyed by Murdoch. Here she explores human survival, both the physical and emotional kind, and familial love of all types and that, to me, was where the story really took flight. Yes, there are some incredibly difficult things to grapple with, but this book is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Crush Intensity: 5/5 I loved it. There were elements that reminded me of Sweethearts (Sara Zarr) and I’ll Be There (Holly Goldberg Sloan). It was such an impressive debut.
Huge, gigantic thanks to St.Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of If You Find Me in exchange for an honest review.