The basic plot is this: two girls go missing. One turns up dead, floating in the stream. Two years later, the other one returns to the small town, intact, but with her tongue cut out. And, because this is Puritan New England, there are consequences for being alive and not “whole.”
I’ve tried to sum up what goes on in the rest of the book, but I’ve found I don’t really want to give too much away. Because much of the pleasure I got from reading this was in not knowing that much about it. But I will say this: it’s a beautifully written book. Not only does Berry capture the horror and guilt of someone who survives a trauma, she captures the religion and mores of the Puritans without being judgmental. And, even though it’s a story about kidnapping and murder and you fear the worst for Judith, I will tell you that, as the story unfolds, it’s not the worst. It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.
The heart of the story is Judith — she’s the girl who returns — and her road to healing. For, in spite of (perhaps also because of) everything that the village (and her mother) heaps on her, she does need to heal. It’s this process that is the true story. How Judith salvages her life from her trauma and reclaims her own sense of self. How she finds friends in the face of all the opposition in the town. How she even finds love. It’s a testament to the power of truth, to the power of the human spirit.
Rated: Moderate for cruelty and violence, both suggested and actual.