The story of two siblings, estranged after an incident that throws their lives off the rails.
In Everett, Washington, in 1980, 13-year-old Venus Black shoots her stepfather in the head. When she goes to a juvenile detention center, she leaves behind her younger brother, Leo, who has developmental differences. He is 7 “but acts more like he’s 3 or 4” and has extreme and adverse reactions to loud noises, being touched, colors that aren’t right, and disruptions of his routine. Venus is the only one who can calm him, and when she's arrested, he is inconsolable, unable to understand where she's gone and why he's staying with a neighbor. When he's kidnapped a few days later, it is Venus who's inconsolable, unable to forgive her mother, Inez, for this carelessness or for the ignorance and dismissiveness which triggered the murder. The rest of the book follows the siblings’ parallel stories. Venus spends five years in juvie for the murder of her stepfather. When she's released, she attempts to build a new life for herself in Seattle, avoiding her mother and her past altogether. Using a fake name, she gets a job at a bakery and a run-down room to live in with a patchwork family—a man named Mike and his niece, Piper. Meanwhile, Leo’s kidnapper has abandoned him, luckily to a father and daughter, Tony and Tessa, who love him very much and care for him compassionately. Over the course of the novel, it becomes very clear why Venus killed her stepfather and why she has such a hard time accepting the affection of male strangers. It also becomes clear that crime and punishment is not black and white, that we all have survival instincts beyond what we might imagine we’re capable of, and that kinship can look nothing like a nuclear family and still harbor profound love. The plot follows all-too-convenient points to a predictably saccharine end, but it’s impossible not to root for this strong, willful girl as she finds her place in the world and for her brother as he tries to make sense of it.
A badass bildungsroman.