A young girl with a unique talent for identifying scents embarks on a journey of self-discovery when she's ripped from her intensely isolated childhood home.
Emmeline has lived with her father on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest for as long as she can remember. Her father teaches her to read, to forage for food, and to hone her sense of smell. Emmeline doesn’t question their isolation, as she’s known nothing else. She adores the long days learning from her father, listening to fairy tales, and watching him use his mysterious machine. The machine produces “scent-papers” that her father stashes inside small glass bottles, each paper preserving a one-of-a-kind scent. When tragedy strikes, Emmeline is forced to relocate to the mainland. She is taken in by a kind, childless couple in a seaside village. Similar to a wild animal suddenly brought into captivity, 12-year-old Emmeline struggles to adapt. As she slowly establishes a new life, beginning school and navigating adolescence, questions about her father, her absentee mother, and her own identity continue to grow. The more she learns about her past, the harder it becomes to reconcile her childhood with her future. Told entirely from Emmeline’s perspective, the novel contains three distinct sections. The first, where Emmeline is living in the wild, is suffused with wonder and enchantment. The author deftly describes the lush island and the awe of a little girl watching her father fill a cabin with mysterious bottles full of scents and dreams. Once Emmeline moves to the mainland, the patina of her youth wears off, and much of the magic of the story goes with it. Even so, the author’s ability to describe scents, the nature in which they evolve, and how deeply they are tied to memory and emotion provides sufficient heft to keep the novel engaging and worthwhile. Told in a lyrical, haunting prose, the story provides fascinating information about the ways in which different fragrances can impact human behavior and the struggles of finding one’s own identity.
An artfully crafted coming-of-age story that will take the reader on an exquisite olfactory adventure.