"This is one of those books you devour." So says Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List about the book I just sped my way through reading. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a book that captures its readers and doesn't let go. Carey, 14, and Janessa, 6, live in a broken-down camper in the middle of the woods with their mother. Well, sometimes their mother is there, when she isn't gone for weeks at a time "replenishing supplies." Carey and her mother escaped from a Carey's father when she was 5-years-old because he beat them. Carey has heard the stories so many times and she knows better than to question them. Carey's mother is bi-polar as well as a drunk and a meth addict. Janessa came along a few years later and Carey has taken on the responsibility of caring for her. Janessa doesn't speak, not because she can't, but because she chooses not to speak. Life is hard for the girls, but it is what they know until a man and woman come into their campsite looking for them. It is then that Carey must finally question all she has known about her own story and decide who she really is.
Halfway through this book I was all set to add it to Required Reading list, but it took a turn that, while it didn't effect my opinion of the book, might give others pause, especially when considered in the light of YA Fiction. I love that this book illustrates so well what it would be like for a young girl to enter the modern world after so many years in the wild. Carey doesn't know anything of pop culture or fashion or even modern conveniences like dishwashers or cell phones. She was taken away from her life at such a young age that she doesn't remember "living indoors, not tap water or light switches or bubble baths. Not even Christmas." What might be a problem for readers is all that Carey endured as a child in the woods. Reading about sexual abuse is normally something I can't stomach, but Murdoch presents it in such a way that, while horrified and outraged, I didn't feel assaulted by the description as other writers have made me feel.
When Carey and Janessa leave the woods, they have to learn to assimilate into their new world. As Carey begins high school for the first time, she struggles to know who she really is. Is she the girl from the woods or this new girl with "bedazzled jeans" and a real, store-bought coat? Where does she belong and how long can she stay when everyone learns her terrible secrets?
"That girl in the woods is amazing. Don't you ever stop being that girl in the woods, you hear me? Braids and new clothes can't take away the best parts of you. You hold on tight to your heritage. That girl in the woods raised a baby, took care of her sister, kept her fed, warm, safe. That girl in the woods is special. Especially out here."
I may not be able to call this Required Reading, but I will label it Highly Recommended.