The Plot: Sophie, 14, is protected by her mother: home-schooled, cautioned against leaving the house, moving often go keep themselves away from the No Good. In their latest rented home, Sophie looks out the attic window and sees a boy and his dog. Sophie leaves the house to say hello, and meets Joey. Her first friend.
Emmy’s four month old baby daughter is missing. She put Baby in a swing, realized she needed a blanket, went into the house to get one: 28 steps to the house, 13 steps upstairs to get the blanket, 13 steps down, back outside, and Baby is gone, one yellow sock left behind.
Two stories entwined, Sophie and Emmy, as Sophie searches for the answers to her odd peripatetic life and Emmy searches for Baby.
The Good: Emmy is a girl searching for her lost Baby. Her husband, immature, selfish, and accusing, and the police, cold and distant, interpret her desperate, intuitive search for her child as being a sign that she is not right in the head. Emmy is committed to an asylum. The reader knows only the Emmy who has lost her child, her Baby, a young mother with no resources, no friends, no family except for a resentful husband. Why did Emmy even marry him? “Mama died, and Daddy went heartbroke, and heartbreak kills you just as sure as cancer does, and I didn’t have choices, and there was Peter, and there is Baby out there waiting.” Emmy’s choice is to search for Baby and it lands her in a mental institute.
The Emmy the reader meets is fragile and frantic, and whether it’s from Baby being taken, her husband abandoning her, or the lingering grief over the loss of her parents, it’s hard to tell. She has no one, no one to speak for her, and ends up trapped in a mental institute, just as she was trapped in her marriage to Peter.
Sophie, too, is trapped: trapped by her mother, confined to a house, kept from school, moving to prevent ties and relationships from forming. Emmy struggles, adjusting to life within the asylum, making friends and thinking of escape, while Sophie slowly realizes she has options outside the control of her mother. She, too, can make friends and escape. Sophie’s acts of autonomy and steps towards independence are small, yet enormous to her. She befriends the boy next door, Joey boy her age who is nice and plays ball with her, and spends time with him and his two aunts instead of doing her homework. Her rebellion is afternoons with him and his aunts, Miss Helen and Miss Cloris, drinking lemonade and reading Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. No, I’m serious.
As these dual stories unwind, Emmy has to survive an institution while Sophie begins to look for answers. Obviously, these stories are related, and the reader knows that, given Sophie’s story, it will be years before Baby is found. This changes the tension of the Emmy’s story from “when will she find Baby” to “how will she survive long enough to find Baby.”
I’ll be honest. Sophie is a sweet, brave kid and her journey towards truth, no matter the cost, is brave and admirable. But it’s Emmy, broken, lost Emmy, who broke my heart. Sophie will be fine: she has Miss Helen and Miss Cloris and Joey and her whole future ahead of her. It is Emmy I’m scared for: scared because she was committed for having a realistic, appropriate reaction to her stolen child and denied her grief and rage and loss. Scared, because she’s young and poor with no one. It was so easy for her to be committed, a problem to be taken care of by getting rid of her. Her soft cries of “someone has my baby” is met with medication rather than hugs and love.
Miss Helen and Miss Cloris, Joey’s aunts, took him in after a car accident killed his parents and sister. They put aside their lives to take this child into their home. At first, Sophie assumes that the two women are sisters; she finds out that instead they are partners. Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray asks, “So, I asked the room, in terms of diversity but keeping in mind how to best serve this teen novel, do I mention that Cloris and Helen are lesbians in my review?” I look at it a bit differently. On the one hand, from the perspective of someone doing readers advisory, I want to know as much about a book as possible so that I know what books to recommend. Because Miss Helen and Miss Cloris aren’t major characters, I’m not sure if cataloguers would include them in the subject listing; readers wanting books with a range of GLBTQ characters may not find this one based on typical cataloging. This, then, is one of the benefits of blogs and of tags and the like: more information on the book. Look at how many paragraphs I have going here! But, on the other hand, despite how long my reviews may be, I don’t address everything in a book. I liked what Joey’s aunts brought to Sophie’s life, the love, support, stability, hope; but, as you can see, what really captured my attention is Emmy. By the way, Colleen’s review at her blog shows I’m not the only one who found Emmy’s story compelling; more at her Bookslut column. My Friend Amy has a guest post by Kephart about Miss Helen and Miss Cloris.