Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

The Advance Readers Edition of If You Find Me arrived with the words "Beautiful, Wonderful, Powerful, Heart-Breaking, Impressive, Compelling and Emotional" dominating its cover. Emily Murdoch's book captivated me in all those ways and more. The words, "hope-filled, joyous and inspirational" describe my whole-hearted response.

Fifteen-year-old Carey leads you  through the story of herself and her younger sister, Jenessa, who lived in a dilapidated old camper in the depths of a national forest. Their mother, a meth addict, fabricates a reason for the life in the forest. She holds them there to keep them "safe" from Carey's father who she claims will wreak great harm and havoc upon their serene woodland existence if he should find them. 

The mother comes and goes as she desires. Her mission in life is to fulfill her need for meth; to that end, she willingly puts her children in jeopardy to keep herself high. The only people the two girls see is the occasional man coming in search of payment for their mother's drugs. The girls have lived in the forest for ten years with a few books, scant food supplies, a violin and their mother's stories of the horrible fate that awaits them outside their forest home.

Corey's faced enemies within the forest: strangers looking for her mother, dangerous animals, hunger, cold, isolation and fear of her father finding them. But, one day her worst scenario occurs: her mother leaves never to return. All of the old enemies come at her at once, including her father who finds them with the aid of a social worker.

Painfully, she faces her mother's betrayal.

How could she leave us to fend for ourselves – leave us all – without explainin' or sayin' good-bye? I hate her with the fury of gasoline set on fire. I burn for Jenessa who deserves better than this, better than some screwed-up drug-addicted mother, better than this chaos that always seems to find us –  rubbin' off on us like some horrible rash.

It's Carey's voice, emotions and perception that carry you through the minefield that is her life.

The social worker's kind, her father appears loving and worried about her. He accepts and cares about Jenessa, who is not his child. They're brought from the woods carrying their few bits of clothing and Carey's violin. Teaching her to play with prodigious beauty is the one loving thing her mother bestowed on Carey.

They spend their first night in a motel with the social worker caring for them. The girls silently revel in clean sheets, a refreshing shower, a soft bed and good food. The challenge of living outside their camper secreted deep within the forest frightens and angers Carey.

I let the tears flow, hot as the creek in summertime. I don't know beans about civilized living. My mind feels crowded, like a room with too much furniture, until chair arms and couch legs poke me, cushions and pillows conspire to smother me...In my mind I hear my trees whistling in the wind and my heart melts into a puddle because I'm no longer there to whistle back...missing Mama and a dwindling supply of canned goods is a molehill to this.

They move into her father's home with his wife and daughter. So much rises before them. Jenessa accepts her new family with open arms. Charming and easily loved, Carey's young sister doesn't feel the loss of her forest home. 

For Carey, it's a different experience. She's missing the campfire, the birds chattering in the early morning as the sun peaks over the trees. The scent and taste of the forest lives in her memory like an old friend. 

And yet, I'm keening fierce for the campfire, for the early morning bird chatter launching the sun into orbit as I shiver and poke the sleeping coals awake, the morning not just a vision but a feeling, a scent, a taste that enters your pores and coasts through your veins until it fires up your very soul.

Carey's father and his wife seem too good to be true. The horror of what Carey experienced and the dark secret from her old life need this. If her father were any less than the fine soul he is, the black burden Carey bears wouldn't be bearable. Nevertheless, she keeps it buried deep until it must burst into the light of her new life.

Some horrors cannot stay submerged.

Carey contemplates the beauty of what she left behind and what part of it she carries forth as she experiences a solid and loving family. She thinks of her violin shoved into the back corner of her closet. Music, she knows, holds its own truth. 

Notes streaming from it do not lie. Her mother did give her something beautiful. She overlooked the best of her old life and can see it now that she no longer lives struggling for sustenance and safety...The best part of the woods. The music transcended the dreariness, the hunger, the cold. Just like the truth transcends.

Truth, love, forgiveness, family--core themes in If You FInd Me only hint at the power of Murdoch's debut novel.

Carey's family had to climb a mountain to overcome many years of separation, lies and fear. The final chapter titled "The Beginning" opens with a quotation from Piglet in Pooh's Little Instruction Book.

You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

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Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.

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