Initial reaction: I loved the writing, the voice and the honesty in this narrative, even if there were some parts of it I had to suspend disbelief for. It was well worth the time, and hopefully I expound on why in the full review.
Emily Murdoch’s “If You Find Me” was such an emotionally gutting read for me. There wasn’t a single time in the course of reading this novel that I put it down – the prose is fluid, the conflict palpable, the characters identifiable. I really liked Carey’s respective narrative voice as well as her dedication to her younger, selectively mute sister, Jenessa. I felt for the both of them, in lighter moments as well as dark. This is the kind of character development in a YA novel that I appreciate. The Winnie the Pooh references were awesome too.
“If You Find Me” starts with Carey and Jenessa waiting for their mother to return in the middle of where they reside in the woods. Yep, you heard me right: the woods. Think extended camping trip, only Carey and her younger sister live with their mother with limited supplies. Their mother hasn’t been back in weeks, and Carey’s worried that they’ll run out of supplies. The scenario is that Carey and Jenessa were taken by their mother to get away from their abusive father, but there’s a bit more to the story than that as the narrative unfolds.
Especially considering some social workers show up to take Carey and Jenessa back to their seemingly worried father. A letter in their mother’s penhand is all the more shocking to Carey in that she signed off on giving them back.
Carey and Jenessa soon have to adjust to living a regular life within a new family, with their father, stepmother, and stepsister. The stepsister is a bratty character who isn’t happy about the two girls coming into the family’s life for “complicated” reasons, and makes Carey’s life especially miserable. Carey also has to adjust to the rules and routine of school and navigating the rough terrain of her relationships. Yet, Carey has a much darker part of her past than she lets on, one that could potentially rip her from the security and better terms of her life.
Again, there really wasn’t a point where I felt like I could put this novel down – I read it straight through. Carey’s voice is potent, honest, and very self-aware. Her dedication to Jenessa is awesome as well, though I’ll admit it gutted me to figure through what these girls went through. I did have to suspend disbelief for some parts because the attention paid to Carey’s beauty and the inner workings of the legal and social work systems, but I still appreciated the careful constructions of the characters and the attention paid to the emotional resonance as the girls try to adjust to their new lives compared to the one they lived with their mother – who made me rage more than once with the way she treated the girls. The story has a gradual unraveling, one that I somewhat guessed ahead of time, but still struck me with quite a bit of impact as all the pieces came into view.
I definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it for those who like YA that handles some very tough situations through the eyes of a protagonist with a strong personality and voice.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher St. Martin’s Press.