If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: 2013
Lexile Level: 750
*South Carolina Book Award Nominee—YA category, 2014-2015
Every now and then you come across a book that leaves you basking in an afterglow when you’re finished. These are the books we read in one sitting, that we can’t put down for a minute. We eat without tasting, balancing plates and forks around pages, too drawn in to notice. If You Find Me is one such book.
This YA novel follows 14 year old Carey and her six year old sister Jenessa, as they are rescued from their home in the deep woods of Tennessee. After being hidden away for ten years by her mentally ill mother, the siblings are rescued by Carey’s father and a social worker. Carey was kidnapped by her mother, Joelle, and has been living in a camper in the woods. We never meet Joelle, but we’re told she’s both bipolar and a meth addict. After abandoning the girls, she writes a letter to the state revealing the location of the girls. Carey reveals small details throughout the book painting the picture of an abusive and neglectful relationship. The novel follows the journey of the girls adjusting to the civilized world.
The book is nearly perfectly balanced. I never feel like I’m being deprived of any character, even though it’s all told through Carey’s POV. Despite being in first person, we have a fairly good idea of how this adjustment is being handled by every member of the family. Carey and Jenessa are brought home to Carey’s father, wife, and stepdaughter. Each has their own reactions to what is happening. We see the least out of the dad, but that’s okay—it’s not his story. An underlying mystery of what happened on the “white-starred night” keeps the story moving along at a quick pace.
Carey is written beautifully. Her Southern cadence is perfect—you pick up on it from the very first paragraph. A Southerner myself, this is important to me. You can tell when a dialect isn’t written correctly—it comes across as forced, or worse, like a farce. Carey’s voice never feels unnatural to me.
My one complaint—and it’s more of a nitpick, than a complaint—is that I would have been more comfortable if Carey had been 16. There’s not much in the story that warrants it, but she is making the beginnings of a romantic relationship with a junior, and she does attend a party where there are drugs and alcohol. Carey never feels like a 14 year old—but that’s partially because of everything she’s gone through. The other small thing is that Carey is a little too…not perfect. I mean, the girl has been through hell, and that’s where the focus is most of the time. But she’s a musical prodigy, tests two grade levels above where she should be, and is described as being model levels of beautiful. While some of this is explained (her mother trained her on the violin from the time she was four; they had time to do nothing but study) it still feels a little over the top. Fortunately, these things are barely mentioned, and don’t really detract from the overall story.
I honestly don’t want to give too much away about this one. It is just so fantastic. Your best bet is to go in as blind as possible. Be prepared for a few emotional punches to the gut.
That said, don’t expect to use this for book clubs or library events. The content makes it way too squicky for that. But definitely put it in the hands of any adults who love YA, and any older teens who you think would like it.
Trigger warnings: child abuse, sexual assault