Melanie Thorne admits right out the gate that her first novel is based on personal experience. In fact, writing it was a kind of therapy for the author, whose mother chose her sex offender husband over her children. At 14, Thorne was asked to leave home, and spent the following years moving from house to house along with her younger sister. The novel is a lightly fictionalized account of that time.
It’s interesting that the author chose fiction rather than memoir for her story. The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer remarks that “having avoided the sometimes controversial but more obvious choice of memoir, Thorne sounds utterly liberated as she describes the merits of exploring fact through fiction.” It would be interesting to hear more from the author on that issue. (The reviewer adds that Thorne’s fictional alter-ego, Liz, has the “clear-eyed honesty of a Daniel Woodrell or Bonnie Jo Campbell character.” You know that makes me want to read it immediately!)
Adult/High School–Liz, 14, and her younger sister Jaime live with their mom and her boyfriend, who just got out of prison for a sex offense. Living with him is creepy; he is far from rehabilitated. When finally it becomes clear that he cannot live with young girls due to his parole conditions, their mother chooses him. Liz moves from couch to couch until she finally lands in Utah at her aunt’s house, which is a welcome respite. Although her aunt loves her, Liz doesn’t quite trust her, especially when her aunt’s boyfriend is in town. And Liz feels tremendously guilty that she is living apart from Jaime and can no longer protect her as she is used to doing. Jaime is living with their father, an alcoholic who has a history of domestic violence and putting their lives in danger. Liz has a great deal of insight into her life and her issues, and much of the book is her internal exploration, most profoundly about choices. While it appears that she is at the mercy of her situation, she actually has a lot of options. How she comes to terms with her choices and their impact on her relationships makes for a satisfying read in spite of little action or major drama to compel the plot forward. A slow pace and a teen beyond her years in terms of insight and awareness make the story comparable to soft reads about difficult subjects, such as Janet Fitch’s White Oleander (Little, Brown, 2001).–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, CA