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About the book
If You Find Me is a contemporary young adult novel by Emily Murdock. It was published by Indigo on 2nd May and the book is 304 pages long. Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
Ever since she can remember, Carey has lived deep in the woods in a broken down camper. Carey's mother is barely ever around and it is left to Carey to look after her little sister. Jenessa depends on Carey but how is a fifteen year old girl supposed to clothe and feed the two of them. Their mother has disappeared for good with absolutely no word about where she has gone and if she will ever be back. One day, a stranger walks into their home in the woods and claims to be their father... someone neither girl has ever known.
Being forces into a life containing school, proper clothes and real meals, Carey is scared for both her and Jenessa. Neither girl is used to this kind of life and Jenessa hasn't spoken a word in over a year. Secrets are being hidden but Carey will do anything possible to protect her sister.
What I thought
Emily Murdock begins this novel with such a strong opening. Carey and Jenessa are two young girls living in a trailer in the middle of the woods somewhere. Their drug addict mother has abandoned them, leaving them to fend for themselves - which is something they are used to doing at this point. It was shocking to see two girls at such young ages to be living in such a way and Murdock was very descriptive about how hard the conditions were. The story really begins though when a woman and a man come to the woods to find Carey and Jenessa. The man, being Carey's biological father has sole custody, and has done for some time - something which Carey's mother failed to tell her. Even though Jenessa isn't biologically his, he takes her in as well and the girls have to get used to a whole new life, a father, a stepmother and stepsister.
As the girls have grown up in the woods, you would think that they were uneducated and very unaware of the world around them. However, Murdock writes extremely clever characters. Carey has taught herself from books and then begun to teach Jenessa herself. When the girls move in with their father, the true beauty of their upbringing really shines through. However bad living in the woods may have been, Carey is able to see the good in it as well as the bad. The descriptions of never ending meals of beans sounded absolutely awful but then there were also descriptions of the smoky smells that no longer exist in their hair. It was a wonder that Carey was able to have such a positive attitude at times after everything she had been through.
Carey's voice is also a distinct one as she narrates the story. Even though her mother was a drug addict with mental health problems, she did try to teach the girls how to talk properly, without dropping letters. This was something Carey forgot to do a lot and mostly when she gets very emotional about something. In her new life, Carey tries to be someone she isn't and I loved watching the real her shine through. There were so many good things about Carey as a character and I couldn't help but love her. She was so caring, especially towards her little sister and would do anything to protect her. Then there were the secretive aspect of her which very few people got to experience.
If You Find Me was a beautifully written debut with a very strong and important plot. The book isn't only about the girls finding a better life but it is about coming to terms with their past, getting to grips with the bad things in life and making the best of what they had and also about new beginnings and new relationships. I absolutely adored this book!
*This review will also be posted on my blog and other sites*
In the middle of the forest, Carey and Jenessa live with their mother in a tatty old camper van. Cut off from civilisation, they scrabble to take care of themselves and each other, in a setting where every day is a fight for physical and mental survival. They just about make it through, but the girls' mother is a drug addict with a habit of disappearing, and she's done just that. It's been more than a month since they saw her. Maybe more than two. Then, one day, summoned by a letter sent by the girls' mother, strangers appear in the woods, looking for Carey and Jenessa. They have come to take them away from the woods, and back to the real world.
But, Jenessa was born in the woods, and Carey has lived there since she was a young child. The transition to 21st century life is a massive one. They go from a world where dinner was whatever could be scavenged from the forest to a world of hamburgers and pizza and pancakes drenched in butter and syrup. A world that has TV and mobile phones. A world where they have an extended family, not just each other. And a world where they have to go to school and spend time with children their own age, rather than learn from what is around them. It's a lot for any child to take, but add in the fact that Jenessa doesn't talk - she stopped using her voice while they still lived in the forest - and for these two it might be just too much to handle.
This is an emotional and thoroughly engaging fish out of water story, told through Carey's eyes. In all the right ways it's reminiscent of Room by Emma Donoghue, taking children out of an environment that's odd to the rest of us but oh so familiar to them, and placing them in the foreign setting that is the real world. While that would almost have been enough, there are other layers too. Carey hints at a past that was unimaginably brutal and something you can't conceivably believe a mother would put her child through. Jenessa clearly has secrets of her own, and while she's chosen not speaking as the best way to keep these, will the change in environment encourage her to spill?
I found this book spellbinding and didn't want to put it down. It's one of those wonderful YA crossover books that you feel no shame in reading as an adult, one where the cover may be a bit young but the content certainly isn't. This is a book that makes you appreciate what you have, not in a soppy way, but in a matter of fact one. And it's also very big on what's important - Carey's unease at being away from the woods isn't surprising, even if she is now living in a place with hot showers and comfy beds.
A lot of the pain in the book is subtle, understated, unemotional, almost because that's the way Carey has had to deal with it. It's not a big deal, except of course it is, it's a huge, massive deal. And yet, because of the low key way she talks about the past, it seems all the more poignant than any woe-is-me misery memoir. This is a book I've been thinking about all weekend, and I finished it some days ago. I suspect I'll be thinking about it for many more days still.
Out now in paperback, hardback, Kindle and audio book forms.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk