Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston. Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. 2012. Review copy from publisher.
The Plot: Polly Furnas had her whole life planned out. The Plan: marry Bridger Morgan. College and a career and babies. Money saved from her part-time job and three (yes, three) hope chests were part of the plan. The Plan is Polly-That-Was.
Now, none of that matters. None of that will happen. Not Bridger, not college, not anything. Polly is Case Six. She got MRSA, flesh-eating bacteria, after scratching a pimple on her face. She lost her eye, part of her cheekbone, and is scarred. She is lucky: Cases One, Two, Four Five and Seven (three football players, a lunch lady, a newborn) all died. Case Three, Odd Estes, a junior football player, lost part of a leg.
Polly’s spending days with her mother, watching TV, because watching TV is something you can still do with one eye, when Odd comes knocking on the door. Does she want to go fishing, he asks. And because there is nothing else to do and she has to do something, Polly says yes to a fishing trip that morphs into a roadtrip, a not-quite running away from home and a not-quite running to confront Bridger.
What choices will Polly and Odd make about their lives and futures?
The Good: I adored Polly — the new Polly. I’m not sure what I would have thought of Polly-That-Was, with her future set in stone and all her choices made because those choices, like her life, were nice and easy. Polly was a much wanted only child; she met Bridger at a dance her freshman year of high school and they’ve dated and Planned their lives ever since. Two nice kids planning a nice life. The type of life where Bridger’s mother insisted on being called “Mom-B” and taught Polly how to make his favorite mac’n’cheese.
Once Polly got sick, Bridger and his family disappeared. All Polly got was an “I’m not coming home from college this summer and let’s take a break” letter from Bridger and a get wall card coldly signed “The Morgan Family.”
Polly has lost everything, especially the niceness that used to define who she was and what she wanted out of life. Her future is lost to her. Her present, also. Friends are scared away by both the MRSA and her face; Polly doesn’t even get the satisfaction of graduating with her class. Her job, working with small children, doesn’t want her back because she may scare the kiddies.
Catch & Release is about Polly picking up those shattered pieces by running away with Odd. Of course, she doesn’t realize at first that’s what she’s done. It’s a simple overnight fishing trip but Odd keeps driving, further and further west. Odd has his own loss: his leg and his identity as a football player. His family situation is as messy as Polly’s is tidy. This is Polly’s story, but we get glimpses of Odd from letters he writes home to his much-loved grandmother.
Catch & Release starts in Montana. Woolston paints a beautiful picture of the country and towns that Polly and Odd pass through; afterwards, I found myself looking up the places they’ve gone, Natural Bridge, Yellowstone, Elkhorn. Along the way, they fish. When the two were in the hospital, well enough to be up but not well enough for visitors, they spent time together and (she being a senior, he going into his junior year) didn’t have much in common so talked fishing.
I had no idea.
I’m sorry, I’m not an outdoors girl and I don’t know fishing and I had no idea what it meant, when Polly said they talked about fishing (“the occasional day on the river or a spring creek“). She has a fly book. A FLY BOOK. “So pretty, so well organized, so full of things that are too tiny — hello, sweet little Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph–or too fuzzy-headed to give me a fighting chance of getting the line threaded.” Let’s just say, those readers who understand that sentence will love this book and its portrayal of fishing, and what it means to Polly. Those who don’t will love how Woolston uses fishing to bring Polly back into the world. Fishing may be to eat the fish for dinner, but it is also, as the title indicates, catch and release. To accomplish something, to catch the fish, but then to move on, to let the fish go. It’s a beautiful metaphor for where Polly finds herself, emotionally.
Slipping in, here and there, is Polly’s loss of her eye and scarring. If a reader forgets for a moment, then there is the waitress who sees her face and drops the coffee pot; there is the fly Polly cannot attach; there is the struggle with depth perception as she walks. Slowly, Polly adjusts.
This is one of those books where I don’t want to say too much about what happens, not because of any twists or turns but because Polly’s emotional journey is so elegantly told.
One last thing: when I went to write this review, the book jacket came off and I saw the book cover. Well played, Carolrhoda Lab, well played. A beautiful, subtle touch.
Because Catch & Release portrayed it’s setting so well. Because both Odd and Polly were tough to like but easy to love. Because the structure was deceptive, starting at the end and then leading us to the beginning. Because Bridger made a poor choice but Polly is so much better off without him or his mother. Because, while they had few pages, the love and support of her parents shone through the pages. Catch & Release is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.