“Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you’re a have, a have-not, or break your mama’s back on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap.”
That’s the first thing fifteen-year-old Carey tells us in Emily Murdoch’s amazing novel If You Find Me. From the moment she speaks, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with her and as her story unspools, it’ll be even more difficult not to want to want to hug her and her little sister, Jenessa, who is just six.
Carey and Jenessa live in a trailer in in the middle of Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park or, as the girls call it, “the Hundred Acre Wood.” Their mother, Joelle, is usually gone and has, in fact, been MIA for “over a month, maybe two at this point,” leaving the girls to fend for themselves. Carey does the best she can to look after herself and Jenessa but “when you’re livin’ in the woods…with no runnin’ water or electricity, with Mama gone to town for long stretches of time, leavin’ you in charge of feedin’ a younger sister…with a stomach rumblin’ like a California earthquake” it’s not easy. The girls exist, mostly, on beans fixed in “new and interestin’ ways.”
On this particular day, though, Carey and Jenessa have company. A woman “as thin as chicken bones, her gait uneven as her heels sink into the soft forest floor” and a man stumble into the girls’ campsite.
He hasn’t offered his name, and he isn’t familiar to me. But in that instant, hittin’ like a lightnin’ bolt, I know who he is.
If You Find Me is an amazing story of resilience and family and forgiveness, but it is also a horrific story of abuse and neglect, made all the more powerful because of Carey’s compelling and authentic narration. I fell in love with her the moment she started to tell her story and I know this is fiction, but I also know that children endure atrocities at the hands of their parents and guardians all the time.
Suddenly, Carey finds herself living with a father she doesn’t remember, a new step-mother and a step-sister who clearly resents her, attending school for the first time. Jenessa seems to thrive in her new surroundings and although Carey contemplates returning to the her life in the woods, her love for her sister prevents her from running. Their journey is one of resilience and hope, but it’s not all smooth sailing.
I loved this book because I loved Carey. I wish the ending hadn’t seemed so rushed, though, because I don’t think Carey’s relationship with Ryan was as fully developed as it might have been and other pieces fell into place just a tad conveniently, but whatever; I haven’t read a YA book with a narrator I’ve loved quite as much as I loved Carey in a long time.