Emma lives a happy, quiet life with her husband and two-year-old daughter. They have a nice house and she has her own personal study that she keeps locked whenever she’s not around…except for one day, hurrying off to the grocery store she accidentally leaves the door unlocked and her daughter gets into the study. Emma returns home to find baby Nancy sitting in her high chair with a blue-smudged face and Emma’s husband is in her study sorting out sodden letters that her daughter tried to eat. Many many letters…some fifteen years worth of letters in all, though her daughter only got a hold of about a year’s worth. Here’s the moment she has been dreading for her entire adult life. Her husband is curious about the letters and she knows she’s going to have to tell him because she’s supposed to be able to trust him…she just doesn’t want him to think she’s crazy.
Emma first met her sister Ginny when she was twelve years old while her sister was doing cartwheels on the ceiling and Emma hovered there to get away from her body. Ginny remembers very little about the life she’d led before but Emma’s happy for the company anyway even if Ginny is just a figment of her imagination…you see, Ginny died twelve years ago just before Emma was born. She must be a figment of Emma’s imagination, right? Of course…except that Ginny starts telling her things that she’d never known before nor had any way to have known and forgotten that are all turning out to be true.
Sounds like a fantasy, huh? A childhood fantasy…but only in the most morbid sense, the fantasy of a girl going through unspeakable hardships and bearing a burden that she can’t tell anyone, especially not her mother. See, her father has told her that she can’t tell her mother because it would kill her, that these things are only happening because the parts he loved about her mother died with Ginny, that her mother would die if she knew he wanted Emma more than her. Emma retreats more and more to the dream world where she can fly and Ginny visits with her to get away from her father, ever more tempted to just never return to her body…but Ginny insists that Emma must while she (Ginny) tries desperately to tell Emma something she needs to know…something that might save her from sharing Ginny’s fate.
This is a story set in simple prose and couched in the terms of a twelve-year-old who is trying desperately not to acknowledge what’s happening to her by name, but it is not a simple story. All too many children have known what it’s like to suffer sexual abuse at the hands of an adult…and more often than not it’s an adult very close to them that’s otherwise good to them and that they don’t want to hurt for fear of hurting others close to them. This is an impossible situation that no child should ever have to face, yet they still do…for this reason it’s important for everyone to be aware that it does happen and needs to be watched for.
Ever since I read Susan Pal wick’s The Necessary Beggar I’ve wanted to read this, her first book. I’d read that the book was about child abuse but I wasn’t quite ready for the kind of poignant first-person tale I would read. Palwick manages to capture the feelings of fear and hopelessness experienced by abused children and the kind of mental tricks the abuser uses to ensure their silence. This is really the tale of two girls seamlessly intertwined…one the story of the girl who survived, and the other about the girl who had no other way to escape than death.
As mentioned before the style of writing is simple and can be read quickly, the story is short (about 150 pages that I finished in a day) but will definitely make a lasting impression, and the story itself is written in a way that all ages could understand and despite the mature content I believe younger readers should read it too…if kids don’t know what to do in a situation like this they’re more likely to believe the trusted adult who is abusing them. Palwick has mastered the art of creating what appears to be a light-hearted story and work in a dire plot without anyone ever realizing it…at least not at first. The plot is revealed tiny bits at a time and every little comment should be noted as anything could be important in the story to come.
Overall this is one of the most in-depth fiction (semi-fiction?) and gut-wrenching books I’ve ever read. This book may be short and seem like nothing much but it’s definitely worth the read, it’ll stay with you for a long time to come and reading it you’ll probably be able to think of at least one person you’d like to share it with.