Sowden’s debut novel follows a woman who’s haunted by the traumatic experiences of her teen years.
Grace is an accomplished chef living in Minneapolis. When she starts getting coverage on popular blogs, she panics at the thought of being interviewed, as she’d have to talk about herself and her difficult past. She already chain-smokes and practices jujitsu to help her cope with the horrific memories of her teens, many years ago. Her overbearing and difficult mother had arranged for her to be abducted by operatives of Epiphany Lake Academy, an expensive school for troubled high schoolers. Grace recalls the awful months in which she needed permission to stand, sit, speak, or do nearly anything else. At the academy, reading nonauthorized books, looking out the window for too long, and not properly confessing to past behavior were all punishable offenses that could earn violators time in “The Shed” with the school’s vile director, Crandall. Grace tried her best to deal with the disturbing therapy sessions and deplorable living conditions, but she soon learned that the school administrator had no reason to ever let her leave—and that all roads led to a mysterious second camp in the Dominican Republic called Mystic Bay, where some teens were sent to live in cages and endure further torture. Sowden excels at showing the long-lasting ramifications of these events on Grace as she alternates between past and present timelines; Sowden clearly shows how every aspect of the protagonist’s adult personality, from her interactions with co-workers to her reluctance to form friendships, has been altered by the horrible treatment she endured. The abuse itself is horrifying, and the author drives home the feelings of desperation and injustice; at several moments, it seems as if Grace has outsmarted the system only to end up in a worse position. Readers may be left with more questions than answers about Grace’s unstable mother, but the story still leads to satisfying and bittersweet conclusions about confronting one’s past.
A shocking tale of surviving abuse and living with its consequences.