A stunning portrait of two shattered sisters trying to piece their lives back together, one shard at a time.
I wasn't sure about If You Find Me at first. Too many YA authors try to be gritty but end up coming off as contrived or phoney. I don't normally like books written in a colloquial style, with accents phonetically written out, but in this case it worked and really set the tone of the narrative. So that was a plus.
Carey spent ten years living in a camper in the middle of the Tennessee woods with her meth addict mother and younger baby sister, Nessa. They barely had enough to eat, and their patchwork education consisted of whatever books their mother remembered to bring home while sober.
One day, Carey and her sister are found by a CPS worker and their biological father, the latter of whom Carey is deathly afraid because the only reason her mother subjected her to this terrible existence was because living with her father would have been much, much worse. But her father is actually a pretty decent guy, and his new wife, Carey's and Nessa's step-mom, is totally welcoming. Their new step-sister, Delaney, isn't, however, but it's a natural sort of jealousy that comes from feeling supplanted in the family dynamic.
I'd just like to say that this was a really well-done example of sibling rivalry. Delaney was not overly bitchy, but at the same time you could see that she was hurting. Those small moments of rapport made the bad times hurt all the worse, because you keep hoping that they're becoming friends, only to find out--nope!--jealousy has just kicked in. That was very realistic.
And it's only later in the story that you find out that Carey and Nessa are actually gorgeous, they just never realized it themselves because they never had anybody to tell them/compare themselves to, and their lives were so ugly that they didn't really think that way about themselves anyway. The story is written in such a way that we only realize Carey is beautiful when she--and others--starts to realize it herself. Usually the "I don't know I'm beautiful" trope results in Mary Sues of the most annoying variety, but this... actually worked. It actually added to the storyline, and the depth.
Wow. Never thought I'd catch myself saying that--and don't you dare think that gives the rest of you YA authors permission to revive that trope. I WILL COME DOWN ON YOU LIKE AN OUTBREAK OF PIMPLES ON PROM NIGHT.
Anyway, as the story goes on, and Carey and her selectively mute sister acclimate to the so-called "normal life," Carey is haunted by the terrible things that happened to her in her mother's camper. Men doing things to her for money her mother could use to buy more meth. Terrible beatings. All culminating in one final incident that resulted in her sister choosing to stop speaking.
This was so tragic, it made my chest hurt and in the end, after that final revelation, I cried a little. Child sexual abuse is such a terrible crime. Mothers are supposed to be nuturing, warm figures, and a mother's love is supposed to be unconditional. Knowing that there are evil and/or damaged people out there like Carey's mother, who are so sick that they can't take care of themselves, let alone young, impressionable children, makes me so sad. Everyone should have a right to an innocent childhood, free from abuse and horror.
BRB. TRYING TO STAY AFLOAT IN MY SEA OF CREYS.
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.