Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Madeline makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love
Rating: 2.5 stars
This book has been on my TBR list since it came out and started blowing up my feeds on different social media. I finally got a chance to read an ARC version of this book due my job at the library. So, thank you to the publisher for sending it to us, even if I’m late to the party.
Basically, I have such mixed feelings about this book. I’ve been struggling to explain this book to all my patrons since I picked up months ago. So, I’ll try my best to describe it here, but know I still don’t know how to go about it. Three main events in the life of the main character, Madeline. The first is about the commune that she was born into and was part of early life before it fell apart. Not much is known about it, just some fuzzy memories she has from it and the fact she’s not overly sure if her parents are even her parents or just the people left behind with her. The second is the supposed abuse of Mr. Gierson over one of his students, Lily. We see it from the outside, as Madeline lives the events of his leaving, his arrest, and the fact Lily refused to testify in court against him that he assaulted her, despite the fact he was found with child porn. The third is the summer that the Gardner family moves in across the lake from her. She starts to babysit their son, Paul. Finally, we do see peaks into her future, but there’s no huge event that it focuses on.
The writing was good. It honestly saved me from marking it DNF. Why? The events happening in the book were interesting, but we didn’t get a chance delve into these events deeply, just from the outside. It wasn’t enough to really drive and keep the story interesting. We’re left feeling empty as a reader because we don’t have answers. Does it make it feel more real life, where answers don’t actually come easy? Yes, but it’s completely realistic, but it’s completely unsatisfied as a reader. As a reader, you want something that drives these big events, but instead it sizzles out when the action happens and your left in the background needing more.
I recommend stopping here if you don’t want spoilers, but to make this easier to understand, I need to get into spoilers for the point.
Okay, that being said, the major problem was what happens with Paul. We learn of his death right before it happens. And then the event gets dragged out into the second part of the book. I went from emotional at hearing this to annoyed at how drawn out it was only to find out we don’t see it. We barely get an idea what happens to him. We don’t get the emotions of it, but annoyance at it being dragged on for ages for nothing. It left me utterly frustrated. The first two events, sure. Madeline forced herself toward doing something with Mr. Gierson which was ridiculously creepy and made me unsettled for a long time. But with Paul, we spend half of the book with him only in the most important moments of his short life, we see nothing. And Madeline doesn’t react the way she should have. Of course, this is a big part of her character. She has less emotions and it’s seen as a big part of her character’s traits throughout the book. There’s little growth in her, just her age.
The idea was there, but there wasn’t enough story to really make me love it other than be annoyed that really, we go in at the same place we leave. It becomes the full focus because there’s simply not enough for it to reach something great. I can see what people like about it. It’s gritty and talks about uncomfortable truths in life, in religion, in being human. But there isn’t enough to really get into things. We get uncomfortable peeks.