If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Published: March 26th, 2013 (St. Martin's Griffin)
Buy the book: Bookdepository
Rating: ★★★★☆ ½
A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
There’s only one word that can really describe my reading experience with If You Find Me: Wow. Just wow. I can try to describe what I thought of this book, but it is truly a breath-taking debut and I don’t think my words will do it justice.
Carey lives in the woods with her sister, Nessa, since their mom left to get supplies 5 weeks ago. Carey is starting to worry something happened, but they make do with what little they have in the old, crumpled trailer where they live. It is in a desolate place in the woods; nobody ever goes there. Until one day, a man shows up, claiming to be their father. With him is a woman, who explains they have gotten a letter from their mother that she is unable to care for them anymore. What follows is Carey and Nessa trying to fit into a normal life, with their father, stepmom and stepsister. It isn’t as simple as it sounds. Carey has a hard time adjusting and often longs to go back to the woods. But for Nessa, she will try.
Gritty. Heartfelt. Warming. Sad. Harsh. But most of all, the book feels real. When I read it, it was like I was there, holding Carey’s hand while she went on her journey to being a normal teenager. Or at least, trying to be. Because everything is new and different. Carey feels lonely, longs for the familiar feeling of the camper and the woods. But while she makes do in her new life, she sees the beauty in things. The simple things, like having a coat that doesn’t smell like pee, or having clean clothes to put on. Or having food that doesn’t consist at least partly of baked beans. It’s so heart-warming to read about, yet so incredibly heart-breaking at the same time.
While I was reading this, my heart ached. I felt for Carey. The things she has been through are more horrible than I could have ever imagined and the way the book was written made it feel like a true story. Because Carey’s story is so intense and gripping, so raw, that I wondered if she was okay when the book ended. I cried for her. I just wanted her to be okay.
Rarely have I read a book like this that really got to me. There are a few, but none deal with the issues Murdoch addresses. Which leads me to handing out more compliments; it’s brave to write a novel about so many issues, both with abuse and mental illness, bullying and trauma. But it was done right, and done so beautifully that I can truly say I loved this book.
Big thanks to Judith for recommending me this book. It’s the type of book that I wouldn’t even notice, one that would skip my radar altogether, but it really is some sort of hidden gem. Highly recommended.