A woman comes to terms with the sexual abuse that both she and her son suffered in this debut novel, the first in a series.
Sydney Keane, born on Mother’s Day into a large family, enjoys a generally happy childhood, marred only by her parents’ separation. That changes when, at 8 years old, Sydney is sexually abused by her grandmother’s boyfriend. Child abuse and the trauma it inflicts are the overarching themes of this work. While never gratuitous, some of the sexual situations get quite graphic. As a teenager, Sydney turns to taking drugs and partying to deal with her abuse. She weds young and gets pregnant right away, but her marriage just as quickly disintegrates. Sydney is horrified to discover that her handsome husband, Bear, has been abusing their young son, Elijah, and she launches criminal proceedings against him (“She wondered how Bear could have so monstrously hurt and victimized the best part of him. How does a parent do that to a child?”). Sydney also must come to terms with her own sexuality as she realizes that she is a lesbian and enters a relationship with her distant cousin Gabrielle “Gabby” Oates, a day care teacher with “a voice like a songbird” (“Sydney loved listening to her sing at the family gatherings every year”). Dixon writes in an informal, colloquial style that reflects the Texas setting: “What a life and picture-perfect.” Vibrant details often stand out, such as Sydney’s early memory of her mother washing the “dirt necklace” from her neck. But while the subject of abuse is treated with the seriousness it deserves, it often seems too pervasive. Many of the people Sydney encounters are either a target of abuse or a victimizer. And Dixon rarely slows down to embellish a scene or really show the characters changing over the long time span of the story. The breakneck pace doesn’t allow the space needed to thoroughly explore the pivotal points in Sydney’s life. The protagonist speeds through her pregnancy, “a dream come true,” in just a few pages. A decision concerning her relationship with Gabby comes suddenly, without a buildup. Will Sydney ultimately discover the resolution she needs? A sequel is promised.
While a Texas tale of abuse offers vivid prose and a determined protagonist, this story could use a bit more fleshing out.