Jacynta Roth, who lost her mother to cancer just three years ago, has a unique perspective on her father’s new live-in girlfriend Irma: She once saw Irma violently abuse her own two sons. But her father, Ned, doesn’t believe it. Soon, Irma’s desire to control Ned’s six children turns into physical torment—with the bulk of the abuse directed toward the youngest, Jacynta. As the years pass, her other siblings leave or mysteriously disappear; for example, Ned’s claim that Jacynta’s older sister, Michelle, is staying with their grandmother is clearly a lie. Jacynta, however, continues to endure Irma’s torture, which includes kicks, hair-pulling and locking her outside in the freezing winter snow. Jacynta’s only chance of escape, it seems, is to run away—but because few people believe that she’s being abused, she fears that she’ll be sent right back. Ray’s novel is a harrowing portrayal of child abuse made even more unsettling by the fact that it’s a true story (with names changed). Readers will likely find it difficult to sympathize with any of the secondary characters: Ned is aware of Irma’s mistreatment but does very little to stop it, and others in a position to help the girl, such as social worker Claudette, seem incapable of doing so. There are instances of optimism, however, that offset the book’s bleak tone: Jacynta’s brother Adam supports his baby sister and calms her when she’s angry or upset; and, in one of the story’s most heartbreaking moments, a friend’s father treats Jacynta so well that she cries with happiness. Ray presents the story in present tense, so there’s no retrospection at the end to adequately wrap everything up; in fact, she leaves more than one of the siblings’ fates vague. But the bittersweet conclusion, which leaves Jacynta facing an unknown future, promises more stories about the young girl’s life.
An inspiring, if often despondent, novel about one girl’s fortitude and perseverance.