The pitch: After enduring two years of abuse, Judith escapes her kidnapper and returns home. Damaged and shunned by her community, including the man she’s always loved, she must find a way to start to heal.
The review: Outstanding. The spare prose carries along this creepy tale of a town outcast and her unreliable memory. I got home in dire need of clean dishes and laundry, but I curled up to finish this book instead. Definitely the right call!
There are strong (though not overbearing) points here about the injustice of blaming women for their abuse, and about discounting the disabled. The setting is worth talking about in that context. A couple of lines eventually make it seem like it’s set in small-town colonial America, but from the beginning I read it as a low-tech post-apocalyptic village. The name “Roswell Station” sounded western-frontier to me, and the town calls their enemies “homelanders,” the stories of which evoked people traveling across wasteland to fight for the remaining patches of arable land.
I might read too much science fiction. (Pretty sure I do.) But I think this confusion was intentional. Certainly the tone of this book, helped by the cover, slots right in with all the popular dystopian titles. Since the setting is so unclear here at first, it’s not so easy to dismiss the cruelties of the townspeople as “eh, Puritans; they sucked, but it was a long time ago.” This is historical fiction that feels absolutely immediate. (Why post-apocalyptic feels more immediate than historical is an interesting question for another day…) So when Judith’s neighbors treat her as tainted, like she asked for her abuse with her sexually wanton ways, it’s pretty clear the book ain’t just damning our ancestors.
There’s some truly disturbing abuse, violent and possibly sexual. It’s clear what happens, but the book doesn’t linger on those scenes, and lighter scenes of humor and love are interspersed. It’s definitely YA, with a big shiny happy ending (to a degree that adults might roll their eyes, but I don’t care; I hate reading unrelenting gloom). Recommended for high school students who can handle being disturbed, and who like some intelligence with their romance.
Read-alikes: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; Chime by Franny Billingsley; Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I’d also add What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (though I thought it dragged) and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (though I think Lanagan’s books can cross the line into rapey voyeurism and should not be marketed as YA), because lots of people disagree with me and loved those books.