It’s a familiar story: girl — who has been forced, because of a crazy and neglectful mother, to mostly raise herself — finds herself, after her mother’s untimely death, under the guardianship of her odd, reclusive uncle. It’s an uneasy relationship; neither girl or uncle, for their own reasons, are quite ready for other people in their lives. Over the short months in the book, they grow, they stretch and yes, they change.
But this is not a coming-of-age story. It’s a story of wildness and freedom. Of love and trust. Of art and beauty. And about finding everything in a broken life.
And familiar though it is, Clay Carmichael makes this story soar.
One of the reasons that this book works so well is that, although it’s familiar, it’s not stereotypical. It’s not that Carmichael makes the characters do the unexpected, it’s that she breathes life into the familiarity and makes the characters real. Perhaps it’s the chapters from the cat’s perspective that makes it unusual enough, or perhaps it’s because there’s so many characters to love: from Zoë, wise beyond her years, but a total spitfire about it; her Uncle Henry, who reminded me strongly of a good friend, cranky, disillusioned, yet with great capacity to love; to Bessie, broken in the heart, but not defined by her illness; and the Padre, the local priest with a loving and tolerant heart. Or the minor characters, who had me giggling and smiling and loving every minute of it.
The other reason is that Carmichael holds the book together with a motif — something that could backfire, if she had gotten preachy about it. Too often, it’s easy to fall into the mundane with something as familiar as love, or the affairs of the heart. But, while the motif is there and, yes, obvious, it doesn’t overwhelm the plot or the characters or the simple beauty of the writing. Carmichael takes the motif, weaves it into the book and makes it work with the story instead of letting it overwhelm it.
It’s not much to hang a book on: familiar characters and plot and a motif, but it’s genuine and heartfelt. A book very much worth reading.
Rated: Mild — there’s some mention of a promiscuous mother and abusive boyfriends, though no detail