Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Emmy Rane; Sophie Marks
Time and place: 2004 and 1990, US (small towns I guess)
First sentence: “My house is a storybook house.”
A story of then and now. One fateful September day Emmy Rane left her four-month old baby girl alone for a few minutes, while she went to get a blanket. She returned to find Baby missing, a lonely yellow sock left behind. Years later, young Sophie resents that her mother keeps her away from people, although she has been taught from an early age that this is done to protect her from the No Good out there. This is the story of Emmy, the story of Sophie, told in alternating points of view.
At last, my first Kephart book. Interesting writing style. And yes, another NetGalley book. I don’t know why they market it as Young Adult (is it the length? the young protagonist) as it probably could stand on its own as a book for ‘not-young adults’ too.
Sophie and her mother are poor, and have been moving a lot throughout the years. Their current house is a rundown one (“A huff-and-a-puff-and-they’ll-blow-it-down house“); most of their furniture has been found in the streets, or has been left behind by previous tenants. One can almost touch the oppressiveness of the environment, especially for a child of fourteen who is never allowed out.
Emmy lives under a different regime. Her prison is a small town, and an abusive husband that she fears. And then, after Baby is gone, Emmy’s attempt to rescue her lands her in a mental hospice, a place filled with unfeeling people and doctors that could not care less.
Although separated by time and space, both characters have in common a need to be free, a need to somehow someway escape their environment and follow their own hearts’ desire; and this is made all the more pregnant by seeing what a prison each of them lie in.
The story is told from the point of view of our two main characters, Sophie and Emmy, and as such we get to know their way of thinking and their innermost feelings. I thought they were both very well done. Emmy’s sense of loss and longing for her daughter, her need to find her, coupled with her fear of her husband and a shade of regret for not having married someone else. Sophie’s first contacts with people other than her mother, the two friendly aunts, treating her like family, and Joey, the curly-haired boy that gives her her first kiss.
I very much liked the small family next door, the aging lesbian couple who loved art, and literature, and learning new things; their young nephew Joey, their dog Harvey and Minxy, their cat. Sophie has been very lucky indeed to have them as neighbors :)
As a sidenote, I have found interesting the way there is very little said about Emmy other than her missing her daughter and her dead mother. I think this is so in order to make it all the easier for the (not-young adult) reader to put herself in Emmy’s shoes — or maybe that is how it seemed to me, since I am long past the age where I could have identified with Sophie herself :)
One interesting relationship is the one between Sophie and her ‘mother’, Cheryl. For more than a decade there’s been only the two of them, up against a world filled with ‘No Goods’. Cheryl is a harsh person, but I do believe she loves Sophie the best she can. And Sophie too shares her feelings, especially as she remembers brighter days, when her mother was healthier and easier to live with.
The book, I think, is about discovery. Emmy’s efforts to discover what happened to Baby. Sophie’s discovery of people, and the world around her, and a bit of personal history along the way. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much, but I found the characters sympathetic enough to make me keep reading on, curious about what will happen to them next.
Thoughts on the title
‘You are my only’ is the thing Emmy’s Mama used to tell her when she was small; these are the words Emmy associates with a mother’s love, and as such with her love for her Baby too. These are the words Emmy wishes her baby were there to hear from her, or else “she’ll never know. You are not a mother if your daughter never knows“.
Thoughts on the ending
A few pages too short, I would have liked to see more show spoiler
What I liked most
The fact that we are allowed to see glimpses of Cheryl’s mind. The villain of the story, she nevertheless has had her own demons to fight (her need for perfection, what happened to her own family earlier on), and she has done so the best way she could think of.
The writing style was one of the things I was very pleasantly surprised of. One of my favorite quotes is this:
And I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t swallow, and I held a hand against my chest, so that all the broken pieces of my heart wouldn’t bleed the space between us.
The fact that the end-of-book acknowledgement included a thank you to Amy Riley and a nod to the book blogging community was also pretty nice :)
What I liked least
I am probably out of touch with the times, but I wasn’t comfortable with Joey & Sophie’s kisses. Sure, they had a lovely relationship, but it seemed to me to be a bit too ‘serious’ for her age. I totally loved the “We had a million things to say and nothing needing immediate saying.” part, and the way he was always being so protective of her — and yet I would have liked it better if they had been just a year or two older.
How old was Sophie anyway? The blurb says she’s 14, but Cheryl’s Book of Thoughts is from 1995, and Sophie’s part happens in 2004. I couldn’t find her age anywhere in the book (perhaps it’s there and I just missed it), which makes me free to imagine her being say 15 or even 16. Problem solved :)
Recommend it to?
Anyone. It’s rather a short read, but beautifully written and full of feeling.
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