Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors.
This month's pick is IF YOU FIND ME, by Emily Murdoch.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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.
First line: Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you're a have, have-not, or break your mama's backs on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap.
This first line is a beautiful introduction to Carey's voice, which is riddled with gorgeous prose that shines through her thick Tennessee accent. My absolute favorite part of this book is Carey's voice, and I can't think of a better way to introduce the story than by giving us a glimpse into Carey's world view right out of the gate, which is peppered with optimism despite her situation, and often tinged with lessons taught by her mother, for better or worse.
Highlights: Murdoch captures the voice of Carey in a heartbreaking and realistic way. As a result, Carey is a protagonist that will stay with you long after you finish the book. Everything from her world view to her boundless devotion to her sister makes this story a poignant and devastatingly beautiful read. I absolutely could not put it down, and found myself rooting for Carey and her sister from page one.
Notes for writers: I've already gushed about how much I loved the voice in this story, but I'm going to gush some more, because Murdoch does an impeccable job of bringing Carey to life. Everything Carey sees and says is a direct reflection of her life growing up in a camper in the Tennessee woods. This is one of the best examples of a strong and unique protagonist's voice I've read in a very long time. I highly recommend it to any writer who wants to see a shining example of what agents/editors mean when they talk about the importance of voice to a story.
Murdoch also does an excellent job of building suspense by withholding key pieces of information from the reader. Why won't her sister, Jenessa, speak? What happened out in the woods, and what is the mysterious "white star night" Carey keeps referencing? The tiny hints throughout the book will keep you turning pages until you find out the answers.
A good read for: fans of contemporary YA, along with anyone looking to understand how to give their character's voice.
I hope you love it as much as I did.