When Wendy Darling recommends a book specifically to you, you pay attention and take notes. Y’all, Wendy was like hey I am doing this blog tour thing and I think you’d totally like the book. SHE WAS SO RIGHT, OMG. Y’all, I found myself loving If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch and thinking about it while I wasn’t reading. If You Find Me is the harrowing tale of Carey and her sister Jenessa who have basically been raised in isolation in the Thousand Acre Woods in Tennessee. It’s one of those books that totally made me question if someone was chopping onions near by and also one that made me wonder if there’s some kind of magic over at St. Martin’s — at least when it comes to contemporary YA (both this book and Eleanor & Park totally impressed me).
When Carey was very young, her mother whisked her and baby sister Janessa to the Thousand Acre Woods, claiming that Carey’s father was abusive. In the woods, the two girls really truly know poverty. They are completely isolated with no contact with the outside world. They live in an unheated camper and without modern amenities despite being in a modern world. To make matters worse, their mother is bipolar and addicted to meth and disappears for weeks at a time. During one of their mother’s disappearances, a strange man shows up with a social worker in tow. He’s Carey’s father and she only remembers the smell of his aftershave. He takes custody of the two girls and so they finally rejoin the modern world and must learn to do all of the things that you and I take for granted. Further, her father has remarried a woman named Melissa, who has a daughter named Delaney. It’s a bit of an adjustment period for everyone involved.
Ugh, you guys I can’t even be coherent about Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me. My heart broke into a million little pieces multiple times for teenage Carey and her little sister Jenessa, but then there were moments that stitched it back together. I just found myself totally rooting for Carey and then dreading certain things. I was so nervous about an eventual revelation — it was very hard to read because I was so invested.Carey is such a strong character who has been given the short end of the stick in life. I couldn’t help but really want everything to work out perfectly for her. I wanted her to be able to talk educated. I wanted her to learn how to use a locker. I wanted her to get the guy (who totally does not solve all her problems, instead she’s proactive about that). Also, I loved how into playing the violin Carey was, how it was this sort of coping mechanism that helped her to be resilient in the face of what she has been through.
I think what I truly loved about If You Find Me is it’s treatment of abject poverty. Carey and Jenessa are raised in conditions where they actually are poor. There’s not enough to go around. They have to hunt their own food. Their clothing is not adequate. They do not have the basic necessities. Their time in the woods is not painted as a happy picnic or getaway, like in The Box Car Children. Instead, poverty is shown to totally suck. I loved that Murdoch incorporated food insecurity as well, and showed how it lasted well beyond their time in the woods. The two girls are constantly aware of food, even when it is plentiful and always available. I think that truly adds a dimension of authenticity, as food insecurity is a very real, very unfortunate experience.
This book is not light by any means. Murdoch really delves into child abuse and thankfully shows that healing can come afterward, even if it is a slow sort of healing. She shows that kids can learn to trust again if they are given a strong support network and if people genuinely care about them along the way. I just so totally felt for Carey and Jenessa and the horrific things they experience at the hands of their unstable mother, and ughhhh their trust issues. Lordy. You guys. Just lordy. BUT BUT, there’s a dog and the dog really helps the story. Trust, you will fall for Shorty like I did.
If You Find Me is written in first person and told through Carey’s point of view. I thought that the writing style definitely lent an emotional depth to the story. As it was written in first person, I felt like there was no distance between me and Carey. I couldn’t distance myself from what was happening to her which lead to a whole lot of feels. Murdoch’s debut is very short and a quick read, but it’s not one that leaves you quickly. I mean, here I am typing this review up 2 weeks after reading the book, but I can still clearly recall the emotions and so much of what I read it. It’s not an ‘easy’ read, but worth it.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch:
Book Savvy Babe – ” an unforgettable journey of Carey and her sister starting over”
Making The Grade Reviews – “Not for the faint of heart”
A Girl, Books And Other Things – “packed quite the emotional punch”